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Engineering College Presents Distinguished Honor Awards to Four Alumni

Four innovative and hard-working alumni of Old Dominion University's Batten College of Engineering and Technology (BCET) were honored during the college's third annual Distinguished Honors celebration.

The college presented awards for alumni leadership, service, pioneering and humanitarianism during a dinner Thursday, March 29, at the Norfolk Yacht Club.

"At the Batten College, we have been blessed to have so many talented students through the years," said Dean Oktay Baysal. "This year's four Distinguished Honors recipients are a true example of the strength of the college, and continue to serve as an inspiration to us."

The Distinguished Leadership Award was presented to Ken Stepka '74. The award recognizes outstanding leadership within the engineering profession, either in industry, government or academia.

Stepka retired from Clark Nexsen in 2011 after 42 years of service with the engineering giant. Stepka, who majored in general engineering at ODU, started working at Clark Nexsen while still a student at the university. He is a long-standing member of the BCET Dean's Advisory Board.

The Distinguished Service Award was presented to Rob Gies, who graduated in 1990 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and received an M.S. in engineering management in 1994. The award is presented for outstanding service to the college and or the community.

An employee of Newport News Shipbuilding, Gies has served as president of the ODU Alumni Association and currently holds leadership positions with the ODU Business Gateway and BCET. He acts as a perpetual advocate for ODU's vision and mission in his work at the shipyard.

The Distinguished Humanitarian Award was presented to Gavin Gramstad '08, a graduate of the civil and environmental engineering program.

Given for outstanding humanitarian aid, service or support to benefit humanity locally or beyond, the award recognized Gramstad's role as program response manager for relief efforts in the Yida Refugee Camp in Sudan, working for the organization Samaritan's Purse. Gramstad uses the engineering problem-solving skills he learned at ODU help provide clean water to refugee camps. He was recently featured in the inaugural issue of ODU's Monarch magazine.

The Distinguished Pioneer Award was presented to John Otto, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 2009. The award is presented to an outstanding pioneer or innovator in the engineering profession.

Otto, a mechanical designer with Pratt & Whitney, the military and commercial jet engine division of United Technologies, came to ODU from Project Lead the Way in New York, a national middle school and high school program designed to expose students to the benefits and satisfaction of study in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Since graduating from ODU, Otto has used his innovative skills and instincts to update and improve the automatic transmission for vehicles through the development of the Synchro-Clutch, an invention he has patented that utilizes elements of both manual and automatic transmissions.

This article was posted on: March 30, 2012

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