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Undergraduates recognized for standout work in engineering and the humanities

INTERDISCIPLINARY INSPIRATION: (l to r) Adam Cummings, Qiyuan “Yvonna” Feng, Riley Prewett are the recipients of the 2023 Wells Prize. (Photos provided)

Each year, the Hajim School awards well-rounded students with the Robert L. Wells Prize. Meet the Class of 2024 recipients.

The Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences is recognizing three undergraduate students with the Robert L. Wells Prize, awarded annually to high-achieving seniors who also excel in a humanities field, as determined by the highest GPAs at the end of their junior year.

This year’s Wells Prize winners are:

The award is named after Robert L. Wells ’39, a mechanical engineering alumnus who became a top executive at Westinghouse and felt strongly that engineers “need the balance of the humanities” to be competent in their field.

Adam Cummings against a blue background.
Adam Cummings ’24 (photo provided)

French and ASL minors help Cummings expand his cultural connections

Adam Cummings has always been a tinkerer and, as a result, experimented with his major before finding his niche. After initially majoring in electrical and computer engineering, he sought a more “hands-on” field and switched to mechanical engineering.

“I’ve always loved deconstructing things and figuring out how they work, and I was heavily involved with FIRST Robotics in high school,” says Cummings. “So mechanical engineering seemed like a natural progression.”

During his sophomore year, he had an open spot in his schedule and decided an American Sign Language (ASL) class could be interesting. He did not have plans to study it further until meeting a Deaf coworker that summer.

“We became really close friends and I realized that there are Deaf people everywhere. By not learning their language and culture, you can miss out on a lot of great opportunities for connection,” says Cummings.

Cummings says he loves how the upper-level coursework in his minors—ASL and French—focus on culture, which has helped him reflect on aspects of American and hearing cultures that many take for granted. Outside the classroom, he stays busy as a member of the ASL Club, serving as the business manager for the men’s Ultimate Frisbee club team, and occasionally jamming in unofficial music groups.

After graduation, he hopes to spend a year teaching English in France or spend time in the Appalachian Mountains before seeking a job in industry.

Qiyuan (Yvonna) Feng against an environmental background.
Qiyuan (Yvonna) Feng ’24 (photo provided)

Applying design skills allows Feng to keep her mind balanced

Qiyan “Yvonna” Feng began her time at Rochester as a brain and cognitive sciences (BCS) student who was curious about how the human brain interacts with the world around it. During her first year, an internship at an artificial intelligence and bioinformatics company called Galixir showed her how computer science could be a powerful tool to further explore the mind.

“I decided to double major in computer science to really push my limits,” says Feng. “As it turns out, the combination of computer science and BCS has enabled me to tackle cognitive science research problems in a more theoretical domain.”

To help provide balance, Feng got involved with the Chinese Students’ Association and served as chair of the design committee, an experience she says helped her improve her design skills and connect with other students with a shared cultural background. Her dual minors in digital media studies and psychology help further round out her curricular and cocurricular life at Rochester.

“Digital media studies lets me explore my love for design and art in a flexible way,” says Feng. “It gives me technical skills while allowing me to dive into many aspects of digital art and culture. Psychology, on the other hand, complements my BCS major by giving me a more comprehensive understanding of the world on a societal level.”

After graduation, Feng hopes to continue to graduate school for cognitive science or neuroscience. She aims to become a researcher who studies visual perception and how it ties in with high-level cognition.

Riley Prewett with Rush Rhees Library in the background.
Riley Prewett ’24 (photo provided)

Prewett complements engineering skills with service and international experiences

In high school, Riley Prewett was initially unsure what field he wanted to pursue. He enjoyed chemistry and math, so chemical engineering seemed like the best of both worlds. He quickly found he chose the right major.

“My first semester here, I took Introduction to Sustainable Energy as a requirement for ChemE and that really sparked my interest in renewables,” says Prewett. “Over this past summer, I had an internship with Loureiro Engineering Associates working on energy audits for a variety of manufacturing facilities and constructing models based on data collected on site and from energy efficiency calculations. Now, looking at my future, I am exploring jobs in renewables.”

But from the start, Prewett also knew he personally needed to complement his STEM major with studies in the humanities. He had studied Spanish since the 7th grade and was “ecstatic” to continue studying the Romance language at the University.

“I have met some fantastic professors in the Spanish department and have grown my skills, especially in writing,” says Prewett. “Last semester, as the last class to finish my minor, I took ‘Buñuel, Dalí, Lorca: Surrealism in Spain and Beyond’ with Professor [Claudia] Schaefer and it is 100 percent one of my favorite classes I have taken at U of R so far.”
Prewett extended himself even further outside the classroom once the pandemic restrictions eased. During his sophomore year, he started volunteering with the STEM Initiative, a community service organization focused on exposing local Rochester grade school students to different STEM fields, and now serves as vice president. Also during his sophomore year, he became chair of the Boar’s Head Dinner, a campus tradition that dates back to 1934.
Last fall, he went on an exchange program to the University of Melbourne in Australia, an experience he says introduced him to amazing people and created great memories. Now, he serves as an ambassador for the Center for Education Abroad to help other engineering students experience similar perspective-changing opportunities.

Upon graduation, he hopes to spend the summer traveling Europe before launching his professional career in the fall.

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