31 Aug 2022
Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering recently inducted five members into the Academy of Engineering Excellence.
The 2022 inductees were selected from the more than 74,000 living Virginia Tech engineering alumni and brings the academy to a total of 173 members. Academy members have made sustained contributions in engineering and leadership throughout their accomplished careers.
This year’s inductees are Steven Bathiche of Bellevue, Washington; Edmund Y.S. Chao of Laguna Woods, California; Lisa H. Finneran of Chantilly, Virginia; Tom Taylor of Kirkland, Washington; and Bevlee A. Watford of Blacksburg, Virginia.
“Our academy inductees have cultivated careers of distinction in their respective fields, nourished by the spirit of Ut Prosim" (That I May Serve), said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “As esteemed alumni, they have demonstrated what is achievable through passion, perseverance, and the enduring principles of a Virginia Tech engineering education.”
The College of Engineering established the academy in 1999 under the direction of Dean Emeritus F. William Stephenson and the college’s advisory board.
Read more about the academy and each of its 173 members.
Bathiche came to Virginia Tech with an intense curiosity about bio-mimicking robotics, leading to several memorable research projects during his studies.
One involved building a swarm of ant-like robots that followed the scent of pheromones. Another was the Mothmobile, which was intended to aid in the development of a wheelchair that could be controlled more easily by people with disabilities. This project received the Top Invention of the Year Award from Discover magazine.
“If we can develop technology that clears away hurdles so people can accomplish their aims, we free up their time for what’s most important. The irony is that technology often adds complexity to our lives. It should bring simplicity,” Bathiche said. “My guiding principle is to remove barriers, reduce friction, and enable people to do more.”
Currently, Bathiche serves as a technical fellow and vice president at Microsoft, where he leads Microsoft’s Applied Sciences Group, an interdisciplinary team of scientists and product engineers responsible for innovations across Windows, Surface, HoloLens, and other products. He has worked at Microsoft for over 20 years, shipping and inventing new devices, interfaces, and experiences. Inventions include the original Surface table as well as contributions to the current line of tablets, laptops, and entirely new form factors. Throughout his career, Bathiche has obtained more than 110 patents.
He credits a bulletin board in Whittemore Hall for helping get him to where he is today. “It was a pivotal moment; my life took quite a different turn. I saw a flyer for a scholarship funded by Microsoft — that was the beginning of it all,” Bathiche said.
Throughout his time at Virginia Tech, Chao split his coursework between mechanical and civil engineering. The resulting crossdisciplinary learning and problem-solving skills he obtained from those courses led him to a career in the recently emerged discipline of biomedical engineering.
“The strong engineering and math training strengthened my ability to solve agricultural problems, which set the foundation for me to go into human mechanics, thus helping create a new discipline bridging mechanics and medicine/surgery,” Chao said.
Throughout his career, Chao has made significant contributions in the basic understanding of musculoskeletal joint mechanics, bone fracture fixation and repair, and artificial joint replacement in the hip, knee, and shoulder.
His diverse academic background led him to secure professorships around the world, including more than a decade teaching at Johns Hopkins University as well as stints at the National Cheng-Kung University in Taiwan and the University of Osaka in Japan. He earned the title of Docteur Honoris Causa from L’Universite de Rennes I in France in 1989.
Chao’s other professional accolades include distinguished alumni awards from the Mayo Clinic Foundation and the University of Iowa. He has been recognized by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and Orthopaedic Research and International Lumbar Spine societies. In 1998, Chao was elected as a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
Chao currently serves as a visiting professor at Xi’an Red Cross Hospital and Yen’an University School of Medicine in China.
Finneran grew up with a love for math and science. When it came to deciding where to attend college, she knew she wanted to explore engineering and she knew Virginia Tech was an “engineering powerhouse.”
Throughout her time at Virginia Tech, Finneran was active in the Department of Computer Science and led the Virginia Tech Association for Computing Machinery as president. She is still a member of the organization today. Finneran recognizes the continued value of her Virginia Tech education as well.
“The foundation of math and science and computer science fundamentals continues to play an important part of my journey,” said Finneran.
Finneran has worked at General Dynamics Mission Systems for nearly 20 years, most recently as vice president of engineering. “I live in the Washington, D.C., area, and when 9/11 occurred, it changed the trajectory of my career,” Finneran said. “In working for a defense aerospace organization, our product accomplishments help with the safety and security of our nation every day.”
In 2022, Finneran was recognized with the Department of Computer Science’s Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements and contributions in research or practice. She has served on Virginia Tech advisory boards at both the college and department level as well as being a member of the Virginia Tech President’s National Capital Region Leadership Council.
Mechanical engineering seemed to be Taylor’s destiny from a young age. “To my mom’s consternation, I was always taking something like a car or refrigerator apart and mostly putting them back together,” Taylor said.
His lifelong belief in Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) began his first year on campus when a classmate encouraged him to join the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad. “The people I worked with and the service we provided on campus was the most rewarding thing I did in college,” Taylor said. “I went on to become the president of the squad. An early experience in people leadership.”
Taylor, the senior vice president of Alexa for Amazon, has worked at the company for over 20 years. During that time, he has held multiple roles at the company, including launching and growing the Fulfilment by Amazon program that allows online sellers to utilize Amazon’s numerous huge warehouses to store and ship the products they sell through the Amazon website. When he looks back on the winding path that brought him to this point, he attributes his success to curiosity, good health in body and spirit, and a little bit of serendipity.
“Leading a 10,000-person organization at a Fortune 5 tech company with a vision to develop general artificial intelligence is certainly not what I was planning when I graduated from Virginia Tech in 1984,” Taylor said. “Staying curious and always raising my hand to try new things has been an important element of getting here.”
Throughout his career, Taylor has obtained five patents — three for anti-lock brake systems while working at General Motors and two for manufacturing services provided online during his time at Amazon.
With three degrees earned from Virginia Tech, Watford carries a special distinction: a triple Hokie.
Watford is an engineering education pioneer. Her impact on Virginia Tech engineering has spanned almost three decades. In 1992, Watford founded the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED). The center provides programs in pre-college and K-12 STEM programs, living-learning communities, and peer mentoring, which have successfully increased the college’s enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.
Watford credits Paul Torgersen, former president of Virginia Tech and dean of the College of Engineering from 1970-90, and Barbara Pendergrass, dean of students from 1998-2003, as inspirational figures for her both academically as a student and later professionally when she returned to Virginia Tech as an associate professor in 1992. Torgersen “gave me a job as a TA [teaching assistant] when I had no money and became a lifelong mentor,” Watford said. “Pendergrass was someone who particularly cared about the Black students. She worked hard to connect us and help us be successful.”
In 2004, Watford saw her career flourish. She received $2 million in National Science Foundation funding to expand CEED programs and was promoted to full professor in engineering education. This made her the first Black woman to be promoted to professor in the College of Engineering, and she is now the first Black woman to be inducted into the Virginia Tech Academy of Engineering Excellence.
Notable recognitions also include becoming the first African American female president of the American Society of Engineering Education and receiving the 2022 Black Engineer of the Year award for Educational Leadership.
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