Finish in Five competition fosters strong presentation skills

By Cassie Montgomery

Published: Nov 9, 2020 8:25:00 AM

From left, CEGS faculty advisor and aerospace engineering department chair Brian Thurow; Billur Kazaz, civil and environmental engineering graduate student; Vinita Shinde, chemical engineering graduate student; Jacob Larson, mechanical engineering graduate student; and Maria Auad, associate dean for graduate studies and faculty development. From left, CEGS faculty advisor and aerospace engineering department chair Brian Thurow; Billur Kazaz, civil and environmental engineering graduate student; Vinita Shinde, chemical engineering graduate student; Jacob Larson, mechanical engineering graduate student; and Maria Auad, associate dean for graduate studies and faculty development.

The Council of Engineering Graduate Students recently hosted the 2020 Finish in Five grand finale. Billur Kazaz, graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was awarded the top prize of $500 for her presentation titled “Deep learning-based aerial stormwater inspections.” Vinita Shinde, chemical engineering graduate student, and Jacob Larson, graduate student in mechanical engineering, were awarded second and third prize, respectively. 

The event, which in previous years was limited to 10 participants, was redesigned to abide by coronavirus restrictions. The reinvented format took place in two stages and expanded participation six-fold. 

“For the first part, we accepted nearly 60 presenters who submitted 5-minute long video presentations,” said Felix Mendoza Suarez, graduate student in chemical engineering and CEGS president.  “These videos were distributed to College of Engineering faculty judges, who assessed the videos according to a pre-defined set of criteria, including aesthetics, merit of the research topic, presentation skills and technical approach.”

Ten finalists presented a live 5-minute summary of their research in front of a panel of judges that included Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering; Steven Taylor, associate dean for research; Maria Auad, associate dean for graduate studies and faculty development; Brian Thurow, the W. Allen and Martha Reed Professor and chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering; and James Weyhenmeyer, vice president for research and economic development.

The combined format offered contestants a chance to showcase various skillsets.

“When you are recording yourself at home or in your office, that presentation can be practiced as many times as you want. You can edit it, cut it and redo certain parts,” Mendoza Suarez said. “But when you’re here at the finale and have to present in front of such a VIP panel of judges, things are different. You need to have good stage presence, to control your time very well and to control your nerves. Overall, everyone did very well.”

Roberts agreed and noted the finalists’ high caliber research topics as well as their communication skills.

“It’s very difficult to take a technical subject and break it down for a general audience, much less a general scientific audience,” Roberts said. “I thought everyone did a fantastic job and I appreciate their enthusiasm for their projects. The research topics that these graduate students are working on can really improve people’s lives by addressing so many important problems that we face every day. It made me proud that students in our college are this technically competent, have a strong ability to communicate and are really working on things that matter.”

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

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