Each year, thousands of students pursue their graduate education within UCF’s 200-plus graduate degree programs. The Graduate Awards of Excellence represent students whose exemplary academics and contributions to UCF stood out to UCF faculty. The University Graduate Council Awards Committee selected the 2011-2012 award recipients from a list of deserving nominees. Each awardee is recognized throughout the UCF community as having shown truly exceptional and commendable work. Each university winner received a commemorative plaque, as well as a $1,500 cash award.

Zhao Wang, PhD

University Graduate Excellence Award for Outstanding Master’s Thesis

As an undergraduate in Zhejiang University in China, Zhao Wang, PhD, helped design and build a child-size humanoid robot that can play soccer. From then, Wang knew he wanted to continue his research in robotics.

“I found the assistive robotics lab in UCF, whose research topics matched with my interest and background perfectly, “shares Wang.

Now an Electrical Engineering PhD graduate from UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Wang’s research focuses on developing assistive robotics systems for patients with spinal cord injuries.

His Master’s thesis, entitled Nonlinear Estimation and Control for Assistive Robots, utilizes a visual servoing design technique that controls a smart assistive robotic arm by vision.

Visual servo control is a technique that uses feedback information extracted from a vision sensor of a robot to control the motion of the robot.

“In our lab we have successfully designed and developed a vision based controller operating underneath a GUI (graphical user interface) and customizable multimodal human interfaces to facilitate pick and place tasks for wheelchair bound individuals,” says Dr. Wang.

Nearly one in fifty people live with paralysis in the United States. Dr. Wang’s work will help them execute some of the many Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) tasks by removing restrictive constraints.

While a variety of assistive robotic devices/arms have developed, Dr. Wang added practical sensors and actuator constraints to eye-in-hand configured cameras. He designed and implemented a control strategy based on Hybrid Visual Servoing (HVS) that guarantees stability and a robust performance.

“Dr. Wang has made extraordinary contributions in the areas of visual servo control and nonlinear estimation for assistive robotic systems,” says Dr. Wang’s advisor, Aman Behal, PhD. “Dr. Wang is among the best students in his field of research.”

Dr. Wang’s work has been accepted for publication in IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology, considered the best journal in the field of control engineering applications. He has published four additional referred papers based off his master thesis.

Haitham Bahaitham, PhD

University Graduate Excellence Award for Outstanding Dissertation

With experience in both the healthcare industry and biomedical engineering, and a concern for the increasing challenges related to the quality and cost of healthcare services, Haitham Bahaitham, PhD, found himself a dissertation topic for which he was destined.

The title of his dissertation is A Framework for Quantifying Sustainability of Lean Implementation in Healthcare Organizations.

“My topic was related to assessing performance improvement in healthcare industry, and the outcomes of my research were presenting the actual conditions of the assessed organization,” says Dr. Bahaitham.

Dr. Bahaitham describes lean as a way of using all available resources (i.e. man, machine, material, space, and time) in their minimum possible levels to satisfactorily fulfill customer-defined needs. Historically, hospitals’ experience with lean adoption has been accompanied with significant challenges, says Dr. Bahaitham. So he focused his research on the development of a framework for the healthcare organizations to quantify their experience with lean.

Such quantification is obtained by measuring the agreement level of hospital staff members about the extent of adopting a set of critical factors of successful lean implementation.

The results of Dr. Bahaitham’s dissertation show a potential for a tremendous impact on the observed levels of improvement within lean adopting hospitals. Dr. Bahaitham believes this will boost the quality of care offered to patients, ultimately raising patient satisfaction.

 “Dr. Bahaitham’s dissertation research was the first to address both process and organizational factors of sustainable lean implementation in a balanced manner,” says his mentor, Ahmad K. Elshennawy, PhD.

 Dr. Bahaitham, originally from Saudi Arabia, graduated from UCF in December 2011 with his PhD in Industrial Engineering.

 “Throughout the various stages of the dissertation, I was tremendously blessed with my advisor’s guidance, committee members’ valuable inputs, UCF library resources, and Graduate Studies training sessions. The whole experience is invaluable, and I will be able to benefit from its lessons the rest of my life,” shares Dr. Bahaitham.

Andrea Cumming

University Graduate Excellence Award in Graduate Teaching Assistant

When one of her students, Paul Biscardi, experienced a death in his family, Andrea Cumming offered to extend the deadlines for his assignments. Biscardi was not satisfied with the new due dates, but accepted it. Months after the course had ended, Biscardi discovered Cumming was still concerned about how she handled the situation and about her performance as a graduate teaching assistant.

“She had the enough humility to question her own actions and yet, in the classroom she always maintained her confidence as a leader,” says Biscardi.

Cumming, who was well-known for caring deeply about her students’ success, served as a GTA for UCF’s Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering Department. She conducted multiple three-hour laboratory sessions at student capacity. Instruction within these labs requires a significant amount of planning and preparation, but Cumming was always fully prepared.

“To provide quality service, Ms. Cumming worked well in excess of thirty hours per week in the laboratory, demonstrating a dedication beyond the normal standard of care”, says her faculty mentor, Steven Duranceau, PhD.

She was also known for being organized, articulate, approachable, prompt and fair with grading, providing valuable feedback on coursework, and voluntarily holding additional study sessions.

“TAs have the unique opportunity to be a peer mentor, a role model, a teacher and a leader. Andrea Cumming utilized her opportunity to the fullest,” Biscardi shares.

Cumming received her BS in Environmental Engineering from UCF and went straight to pursue her Environmental Engineering PhD.

“I came to UCF because of their large, and well-known engineering programs. And a lot of engineering firms recognize UCF graduates as pretty high-level graduates,” shares Cumming.

Cumming intends to graduate Spring 2014. She frequently travels to Hawaii for seven days at a time for research, which involves various methods of drinking water treatment in Maui.

 “What I love most about UCF is that they are always looking toward the future—always looking for the newest and latest technologies,” Cumming continues. “They stress the fundamentals of everything but, at the same time, embrace the future.”

Kelly J. Grillo, PhD

University Graduate Excellence Award in Graduate Student Teaching

When Kelly J. Grillo, PhD, was in 7th grade, school administrators told her she would not amount to anything more than a waitress or phone operator. Today, Dr. Grillo is considered one of the most successful students to graduate from the Exceptional Education PhD program.

“Dr. Kelly Grillo is one of the most passionate, bright, caring and forward thinking students I have met in my career,” states her mentor, Lisa Dieker, PhD.

Dr. Grillo began her academic career at Rutgers University- Camden, where she earned her BA in Psychology. She ultimately chose UCF’s graduate programs for her Master’s and PhD degrees because of the service and support dedicated to a diverse population of learners, such as those with disabilities.

Dr. Grillo taught mixed mode and online courses as a Graduate Teaching Associate for three years. Dr. Grillo is recognized for “her unbelievable skills for technology and teaching online”, says Dr. Dieker.

“Undeniably my teaching philosophy is to deepen the connections with 100% of my students in order to have them reach and teach 100% of theirs,” states Dr. Grillo. Her teaching philosophy is clearly taken to heart, as her teaching evaluations consistently range from very good to excellent.

As the parent of a child with a learning disability, Dr. Dieker continues on to say, “My son’s future and children like him depend on the leadership and quality of teaching practices of people like Dr. Grillo. She has already created and will continue to create a better world for children like my own through her passion, teaching, scholarship and service to our field.”

Dr. Grillo was the lead doctoral student in the Lockheed Martin/UCF Mathematics and Science Academy. She also worked with Rebecca Hines, PhD, to develop and implement several programs across UCF’s campuses ensuring that general education teachers understood students with disabilities.

Dr. Grillo has several publications, received more than a dozen honors and awards, and is actively involved in a number of boards and councils in the community.

“No words can describe how proud I feel being part of UCF and the opportunities I have gotten to take part in,” shares Dr. Grillo.