PME honors class of 2021

Twenty-eight graduate students from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) and 26 undergraduate molecular engineering majors from The College, celebrated the completion of their academic journey last week.

Due to the shifting health landscape of 2021, the 534th convocation was held virtually on June 9, with University President Robert J. Zimmer verbally conferring degrees and Deborah Nelson, the Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of English Language and Literature, giving the keynote address.

Individual schools held separate in-person ceremonies following convocation, which is traditional at the University. Pritzker Molecular Engineering held its ceremony on Saturday, June 12.

“Thinking about this graduating class, I feel a great deal of pride in what they have accomplished,” said Matthew Tirrell, dean of PME. “Each of them are remarkable scholars and scientists who have demonstrated excellence in their research and scholarly work. I am very much looking forward to what they will achieve as they start the next chapter of their professional lives.”

Among the graduates was master’s student Sonia Vohra, who investigated how material engineering could improve environmental cleanup. As one of the first graduates to complete PME’s Master of Science in Molecular Engineering (MSME) program, Vohra spoke about the experience as particularly expansive.

“As someone who entered this program without a lot of engineering experience, I've really appreciated being able to explore different aspects of molecular engineering, from classical molecular modeling to synthetic biology, while also going in-depth into other topics like polymer science.”

Vohra also reflected on the challenges and success of the pandemic year.

“Despite the year being remote, I am so grateful for the friendships with the other MSME students I have been able to cultivate throughout the program. Being in so many of the same classes together not only allowed us to bond over assignments and learning the material, but it also gave us the chance to connect over our shared interests and help each other out with our academic and career goals. I truly cherish these friendships and am confident that we'll stay in touch for years to come!”

Jialu Liu, a graduating PhD student, worked on fibrin biomaterial engineering while at PME. She spoke about her experience and expressed particularly fondness for the collaborative culture in the Hubbell Lab, and for her mentor, postdoctoral scientist Priscilla Briquez.

“Our whole group was supportive and collaborative, but Priscilla was especially helpful, “Liu said. “She not only supervised my research projects, but also taught me a lot about life and careers and helped me overcome stress and failure. I’m very grateful to have had such a mentor at PME.”

Liu, who will be entering the bioengineering industry, reflected on the research process and how her perspective shifted over the course of the past few years.

“My research focuses on protease inhibitors and growth factors in regenerative medicine; it involves a lot of trial and error, with tons of failures. But that process enabled me to understand how problem solving and discovery is really the nature of research. I was exploring applications for a novel protein, and I’m really proud that we found two impactful models.”

Nineteen students earned their PhDs this year, and nine students earned MS degrees.

“It’s a considerable accomplishment, what these graduates have done,” said Paul Nealey, vice dean for education and outreach and Brady W. Dougan Professor of Molecular Engineering. “They completed a rigorous program during a challenging time, and they did it all with an abundance of grace and determination. I look forward to hearing about their future accomplishments.”