2022 Knights of St. Patrick

2021-2022 ISUR scholars Christina Garcia, Ali Nunes, and Ege Gungor Onal each were named Knights of St. Patrick, an annual award given by the College of Engineering to students who represent leadership, excellence in character, and exceptional contribution to the College and its students. The award is one of the highest honors received by a College of Engineering student.

Read more about each of the awardees below.


Junior, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Christina Garcia is a junior majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a minor in the Hoeft Technology and Management Program. She is currently part of the Sychterz Modular Adaptive Resilient Transformable Infrastructure (SMARTI) Lab focusing on structural engineering research with tensegrity structures. Last year, she also conducted research in the CEE Water Resources Department on phosphorus nutrient overloads in Lake Erie.

Christina says her favorite part of being involved in the ISUR program is that she found it very useful to take a class on learning the basic concepts pertaining to Undergraduate Research, such as creating posters and presenting. She also enjoyed being given the opportunity to learn about potential research topics/career paths through the Lunch & Learns from the ISUR program. Being a part of ISUR also allowed Christina to establish a community where she knows she can go for guidance when having questions/doubts about her research interests and potential path.

On campus, Christina is the External Vice-President of Society of Women Engineers, a member of SHPE, a member of Chi Epsilon, a T&M Student Ambassador, and an ARISE Scholar! She says her proudest accomplishment at UIUC is receiving the Knights of St. Patrick award. In her free-time, Christina loves to go on nature walks, do yoga, and do nail art.

This summer, Christina will be interning with Burns and McDonnell in their Construction/Design-Build division.


Senior, Materials Science & Engineering

Ali Nunes is a senior in Materials Science & Engineering with a concentration in biomaterials. As a member of the Harley Lab, her research centers around better understanding the intricacies of cellular microenvironments, specifically the stem cell niche. Ali’s current project is looking to determine the effects of mesenchymal stromal cell remodeling on hematopoietic stem cell maintenance.

Ali says her favorite part of being involved in the ISUR program has been the relationships she was able to form with other researchers on campus, program participants, ISUR staff, and the Harley Lab members. She also says the ISUR program played a huge role in her decision to pursue a graduate degree. The ISUR program provided her with an opportunity to explore what it would be like to continue to graduate school and also to develop skills that will allow her to succeed in that pursuit. From developing her own research projects, presenting journal articles at lab meetings, and sharing her work in conference settings, Ali says she gained valuable skills that have built up her confidence as a researcher.

Ali’s proudest accomplishment at UIUC was placing first in the 2021 Materials Science and Technology Conference undergraduate speaking competition. She says she couldn’t have done it without the support of the members of the Harley Lab, especially her mentors Gunnar and Aidan. On campus, Ali is the President of Engineering Council, a Head Engineering Learning Assistant for ENG 398, the EOH Director of Material Advantage, an Undergraduate Recruiter for the MatSE department, and a MatSE Communications intern. In her free time, she enjoys baking, photography, and exploring various coffee shops around campus.

After graduation, Ali plans on taking time off from school to join the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the health sector. Then, she plans on pursuing an MD-PhD after completing her service.


Senior, Bioengineering

Ege Gungor Onal is a senior in bioengineering and an undergraduate research assistant in Professor Brian T. Cunningham’s Nanosensors Group where he is pursuing a senior thesis for cancer biomarker discovery using patient blood samples. In the lab, he also presented research at the 2020 Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting on “Automated White Blood Cell Differentiation and Count”. In addition, he participated in a study on “Portable PCEM for Nucleic-Acid Detection” that was published in Biomedical Optics Express Journal.

Ege says that his favorite part of being involved in the ISUR program was having the opportunity to get to know what amazing research is being conducted on campus. Through the ISUR program, he was given the opportunity to be involved in multiple research projects and learn from great mentors.

Ege’s proudest accomplishments during his time at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are being selected as a Knight of St. Patrick and starting two RSOs on campus, the Cancer Center at Illinois Student Organization and COVID-Pals. At UIUC, he is also a lead engineering learning assistant for ENG 100: Engineering Orientation and a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society and Turkish Student Association. In his free-time, Ege likes to play the electric guitar!

Following graduation in May, Ege plans to pursue a career in cancer research.

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