Skip to content


2020 Ronald P. Harrelson Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineers

These 15 Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineers, age 35 or younger, are being recognized for their exceptional contributions and accomplishments in the manufacturing industry. Each year, the award is named in honor of a specific individual who has made lifelong contributions to manufacturing and SME. The 2020 award is named after 2002 SME President Ronald P. Harrelson, FSME, CMfgE, a retired senior learning consultant at Caterpillar Inc.

Dan Cooper, PhD
Assistant Professor
Mechanical Engineering Department
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Cooper is an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. He heads the Resourceful Manufacturing and Design group, which is dedicated to pursuing environmental sustainability through process innovations in resource efficiency and optimized manufacturing and recycling supply chains. Cooper’s work is at the nexus between industrial ecology and mechanical engineering: He uses IE methodologies such as material flow analyses and life cycle assessment to identify opportunities and quantify impacts at the process, factory and supply chain scale and then pursues an experimental and mechanistic modeling approach to generate the scientific knowledge underlying those opportunities. SME Member Since 2007

Gabriela Darras
Manufacturing Engineering Manager
Caterpillar Inc.
Island Lake, Illinois

Darras is a manufacturing engineering manager for Caterpillar's Oil & Gas and Marine Division. Previously, as a director of operations at ITC, Darras oversaw a team of manufacturing engineers, software developers and technical experts to launch and implement projects from product development to manufacturing, offering business solutions that helped customers improve their manufacturing operations, implement new technologies and adapt to industry changes. In this role, she led strategic initiatives that contributed to the development of the ITC team and the expansion of manufacturing solutions, including cutting-edge software that was crucial to ITC customers’ increasing effort to improve machining operations and thrive in their transformation toward flexible and digital manufacturing. Prior to ITC, Darras worked as a consulting manager at CGN Global where she led and provided support to numerous business transformation projects. She holds a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering and a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Bradley University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in production engineering from the Universidad Privada Boliviana. Darras has been a chapter officer for SME’s Greater Peoria Chapter 31 since 2013, serving as its chair in 2014. She is currently the co-chair of SME’s Chapter Enhancement Committee. SME Member Since 2010

Ryan Gergely, PhD
Senior Researcher
Manufacturing Systems Research Lab
General Motors Research & Development
Warren, Michigan

Gergely is a senior researcher at General Motors Research & Development in the Manufacturing Systems Research Lab. He received his bachelor’s degree in 2006 and a master’s degree in 2010, both in mechanical engineering from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, working in the industry for three years in between. Gergely’s graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign focused on multifunctional and composite materials, where he received his doctorate in theoretical and applied mechanics in 2016. Currently, Gergely’s research is in composites manufacturing, including compression molding, part fixturing and joining. SME Member Since 2018

Xi Gu, PhD
Assistant Teaching Professor
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Piscataway, New Jersey

Gu obtained his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Zhejiang University, China; a master’s degree in industrial and operations engineering; and a doctorate in mechanical engineering, both from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His research interests include smart manufacturing, design and operation of reconfigurable manufacturing systems, maintenance decision-making in manufacturing systems and engineering education. Gu is the recipient of the Outstanding Young Reviewer Award from NAMRC 46 (2018), the Best Paper Award from the International Journal of Production Research (2018) and the Best Paper Award at the 11th International Conference on Frontiers of Design and Manufacturing. SME Member Since 2019

Grace X. Gu, PhD
Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California

Gu is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Gu received her master’s and doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her current research focuses on creating new materials with superior properties for mechanical, biological and energy applications using multiphysics modeling, artificial intelligence and high-throughput computing, as well as developing intelligent additive manufacturing technologies to realize complex material designs previously impossible. Gu is the recipient of several awards, including the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award, MIT Tech Review 35 Innovators Under 35, Johnson & Johnson WiSTEM2D Scholars Award, Royal Society of Chemistry Materials Horizons Outstanding Paper Prize and Materials Research Society Graduate Student Medal. SME Member Since 2020

Ping Guo, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois

Guo is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University. He received his bachelor’s degree in automotive engineering from Tsinghua University in 2009 and his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University in 2014. Before joining Northwestern in September 2018, Guo spent four years at the Chinese University of Hong as an assistant professor. His research interests center on the paradigm of micro/mesoscale manufacturing, including surface texturing, process micromechanics, miniature machine tools, microadditive manufacturing and so on. Guo serves as an associate editor for SME’s “Journal of Manufacturing Processes” and is an editorial board member for SME’s “Manufacturing Letters.” He is the recipient of the Young Investigator Award from International Symposium on Flexible Automation (2018); Hong Kong Research Grants Council Early Career Award (2016); Best Paper Awards of International Conference on NanoManufacturing (2016); and International Conference on MicroManufacturing (2013). SME Member Since 2015

Blake N. Johnson, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia

Johnson received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a certificate in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2008), a doctorate degree in chemical engineering from Drexel University (2013) and postdoctoral training in the mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University (2015). Since joining the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech as an assistant professor, his research has focused on biomanufacturing and biosensing with applications including 3D bioprinting, cell expansion, organ transplantation processes. Johnson’s research contributions to the fields of biosensing and biomanufacturing have resulted in multiple awards, including an Outstanding Dissertation Award from Drexel University. His research has been highlighted in multiple journals, including Lab on a Chip, Advanced Healthcare Materials and Advanced Optical Materials. Johnson is currently an active member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Chemical Society and SME. SME Member Since 2018

Feng Ju, PhD
Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering
School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona

Ju is an assistant professor of industrial engineering in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering at Arizona State University and the director of the Manufacturing and Service Systems Lab. He obtained his doctorate in industrial and systems engineering and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Ju's main research interests include data analytics, control and automation in production systems and large-scale additive manufacturing. His papers have been published in flagship journals such as “IISE Transactions,” “IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control,” “Technometrics” and “IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering.” Ju‘s work has been recognized by multiple awards including Best Paper Award, IFAC Conference on Manufacturing Modeling, Management and Control (2013); Best Student Paper Award Finalist, IEEE Conference on Automation Science and Engineering (2017); and multiple featured articles in “IISE Magazine.” SME Member Since 2020

Nenad Miljkovic, PhD
Associate Professor
Mechanical Science and Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, Illinois

Miljkovic is an associate professor of mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he leads the Energy Transport Research Laboratory. Miljkovic has courtesy appointments in Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Materials Research Laboratory. He is the associate director of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Center, which is an NSF-founded Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program at UIUC supported by 30 industrial partners. Miljkovic’s group’s research intersects the multidisciplinary fields of thermo-fluid science and salable nanomanufacturing. He is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, the ACS PRF DNI Award, the ONR YIP Award, a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship from the UK Royal Academy of Engineering, a U.S. NAS Arab-American Frontiers Fellowship, the ASME ICNMM Young Faculty Award, the ASME Pi Tau Sigma Gold Medal, the CERL R&D Technical Achievement Award, the UIUC Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ERDC R&D Achievement Award and is a Kritzer Faculty Scholar. SME Member Since 2017

Brian K. Post, PhD
Research Scientist
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Knoxville, Tennessee

Post is a research staff member and technical lead for large-scale thermoplastic and infrastructure scale additive manufacturing systems with the Manufacturing Systems Research Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. His research at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility includes the development of large-scale additive manufacturing processes capable of producing large parts (8’ x 20’x 6’, 1000+lb) at rates 1000x faster than current commercially available systems. Post has been a technical leader on all of ORNL’s large-scale additive manufacturing research including the Big Area Additive Manufacturing System (BAAM), which has been commercialized and was utilized to print the world’s first 3D-printed car, the Strati and the ORNL 3D-printed Shelby Cobra. In addition, the system has been used by ORNL to create submarines, wind-turbine blade molds, mobile homes and the production tooling for precast concrete installations. His team is now developing a rapidly deployable cable-driven 3D printer for printing concrete objects at the construction scale (100’ x 100’ x 30’). Other projects include the utilization of additive manufacturing systems to develop novel robotic technologies, including underwater manipulation systems and prosthetic applications. SME Member Since 2018

Michael P. Sealy, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Mechanical & Materials Engineering
University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska

Sealy joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering in 2015. His primary research field is advanced manufacturing. Sealy’s passion is solving problems in medicine with manufacturing and fostering engineering entrepreneurial education. He received his doctorate (2014) and a bachelor’s degree (2008) in mechanical engineering from The University of Alabama. Sealy is the president and founder of Surface Integrity LLC, a med-tech startup developing the next generation of biodegradable orthopedic implants. He has made significant contributions to the fields of manufacturing, medical devices and sustainability. Sealy’s doctorate research focused on processing, surface integrity and performance of biodegradable magnesium-calcium implants by laser shock peening, which has received national and international recognition from SME, ASME, ASM and MRS. He recently received the prestigious NSF CAREER Award in the area of additive manufacturing, specifically glocal integrity formation from asynchronous laser processing. SME Member Since 2017

Mihaela Vlasea, PhD
Assistant Professor
Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering
Associate Research Director
Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Laboratory
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Vlasea is an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo in its Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering Department and the associate research director of the Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Laboratory. Her research focuses on innovative design, process optimization and adoption of new materials for powder-bed fusion and powder-bed binder jetting additive manufacturing processes. The research goals are to bridge the technological gaps necessary to improve part quality, process repeatability and reliability. SME Member Since 2015

Qiming Wang, PhD
Assistant Professor
Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Southern California
Los Angeles

Wang joined the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California as an assistant professor in August 2015. Prior to this position, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2014-15). Wang earned his doctorate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University in 2014, where he was awarded the Triangle MRSEC Fellowship and Lew Pre-doctoral Fellowship. Wang earned his bachelor’s degree from Fudan University in 2010. His research interests are centered around the manufacturing and mechanics of unprecedented materials and structures that can potentially address grand engineering challenges in infrastructure, environment, robotics and healthcare. Wang is the recipient of NSF CAREER Award (2020), AFOSR Young Investigator Award (2018), MRS Graduate Student Award (2014), ACS Arthur K. Doolittle Award (2014), Duke University Kewaunee Student Achievement Award (2013) and ASME Best Student Paper Award (2011). SME Member Since 2018

Rui Zhou, PhD
Manager of Product Design
Cupertino, California

Zhou is currently working as the manager of product design at Apple. He received his bachelor’s degree from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2007 and his doctorate from Northwestern University in 2011. Zhou is passionate about pushing design and manufacturing toward the goal of cost-effective, energy-efficient and eco-friendly. Zhou has been fellow of ISEN (The Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern) since 2010 with the mission of advancing global sustainability and energy solutions. At Apple, he has been actively promoting product design with bio-based and recycled materials and manufacturing with environmentally friendly operations. Zhou’s initiatives on green manufacturing have received great attention and are followed by world-leading manufacturing companies that share the same vision. In recognition of his significant contribution to the manufacturing processes and systems, he was honored the ASME Blackall Machine Tool & Gage Award in 2012. SME Member Since 2019

Yan Zhou, PhD
Senior R&D Engineer
Global Exploratory Technology
Quaker Houghton Corp.
Conshohocken, Pennsylvania

Zhou is a senior R&D engineer in the Global Exploratory Technology Group at Quaker Houghton Corp. In his role, Zhou explores technology and science with the potential to shape the future of the industry. He made outstanding original research contributions concerning the development of manufacturing industrial process fluids to the primary metals and metalworking markets. Along the way, he built collaborations with industrial partners and universities. Zhou earned his bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Shandong University (China), and a doctorate in materials science and engineering from Texas A&M University. Prior to joining Quaker Houghton, Zhou completed his postdoctoral training at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where his research focused on advanced lubrication for energy efficiency. Zhou is the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers Early Career Award (2017), ORNL Significant Event Award (2015) and the STLE Young Tribologist Award (2012). SME Member Since 2020