Graduate Students Begin to Find Jobs in Their Fields

05/27/04    Portland, Ore.

More than 100 OGI School of Science & Engineering master's and doctoral students will graduate June 4, 2004

As part of his environmental science doctoral degree, Ameer Tavakoli has for years been analyzing nicotine in tobacco smoke under the tutelage of James Pankow, Ph.D., a professor of environmental and molecular systems in the Oregon Health & Science University OGI School of Science & Engineering. So when Tavakoli learned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Emergency Response and Air Toxicants Branch had an opening for someone to do similar research, he leapt at the chance.

"There were other jobs that I was thinking about and had begun applying for, but I will admit that once this position became a reality, I never looked twice at anything else," said Tavakoli, 30, who began pursuing his doctoral degree at the OGI School of Science & Engineering (www.ogi.edu) in Hillsboro, Ore., in early 1999, after completing his master's at OGI on the transport of various chemicals in groundwater." The CDC has been examining tobacco smoke chemistry for many years now and the work that I've been doing for the past few years fits in very well with their research goals. They are doing great work and I am looking forward to being part of their team."

Tavakoli is one of 116 OGI students who will march at 2 p.m. on June 4, 2004, at a commencement ceremony on OHSU's Marquam Hill Campus (Media are welcome to attend; please call Christine Decker at 503 494-6397 to make arrangements).

"This is a strong graduating class," said Dick Fairley, Ph.D., associate dean of graduate education at the OGI School of Science & Engineering. "Our students already are starting to hear about excellent opportunities in their fields."

Of the 116 June 2004 graduates, 10 will receive doctorates, 99 will receive master's (three through the Oregon Master of Science and Engineering program, a joint effort among OGI and other local universities) and seven will receive certificates in health care management.

The 2004 graduating class is diverse: while the majority of students are from Oregon and other points around the nation, there are also 16 students from India, 14 from China, two from Taiwan, and one each from Brazil, Canada, Guatamala, and Venezuela.

For the first time, a doctoral student who completed studies on a part-time basis will graduate.

Paul McKenney, 45, works full time at IBM as an engineer for the Linux Technology Center, doing software architecture, coding, performance analysis and occasional debugging. McKenney said he selected OGI for its locale, as well as the quality and reputation of the computer science department. "I believe that a doctoral degree will give me added flexibility later in my career or in a second career," said McKenney, - who lives in Beaverton, Ore., and has worked at IBM for four years. "I also couldn't resist the challenge of being the first to complete a doctoral program in computer science and engineering as a part-time student!"

Like many full-time working professionals in high technology taking courses at OGI on a part-time basis, McKenney attended classes during the evenings and on his lunch hour. His research centers on a new software approach that boosts the performance of shared-memory multiprocessor (SMMP) synchronization operations.

"It's quite a feat to finish a doctoral program on a part-time basis in just four years while working full time and taking care of a wife and children," said Jonathan Walpole, Ph.D., a professor of computer science and engineering at OGI who advised McKenney. "Paul is really a unique individual and was a great asset to his classmates and to our Systems Software Lab."

Fairley noted that graduates from the 41-year-old OGI are beginning to make a difference in the world. "Our doctoral students are getting jobs at such corporations, government entities and universities as Intel, Oracle, NASDAQ, University of Georgia, Rice University, University of Texas, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Credence, CH2M-Hill, and Willamette University, just to name a few," said Fairley. "I believe our graduates are starting to have significant influence on the economy, either by starting their own companies, helping companies bring profitable new products to market, or by educating the leaders of tomorrow. Many schools would be proud to have graduates as accomplished as ours."

Tavakoli speaks highly of his OGI education: "Not only was I well trained by my adviser, other faculty, and my peers in terms of technical proficiency, but I was also given a lot of instruction, experience and feedback in public speaking."

Tavakoli, who is of Iranian descent but grew up in Alabama, enrolled at OGI in winter 1997 -- an unusual time to begin course work at most graduate schools, but his timing was fine with flexible OGI. Tavakoli spent most of his days in the lab conducting experiments and reading journals articles on a wide range of topics. He was heavily involved in OGI campus life, holding numerous positions on the student council, including president. He was a volunteer mentor and instructor for such programs as Saturday Academy, the Student Watershed Research Project, and Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics. Despite his busy schedule, Tavakoli also found time to rehearse the viola once a week with the Beaverton Chamber Symphony, in preparation for their quarterly performances at Oak Hills Reform Church. And the northwest Portland resident is active in his neighborhood's Food Front Cooperative.

"I don't think I can speak highly enough of the faculty here for their dedication, not just for their research, but in teaching those concepts to others," said Tavakoli. "It was one of the driving forces that led me to choose to do my Ph.D. here instead of anywhere else."

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