Sumedh Warudkar spent his six years as a Rice University graduate student finding ways to make both Rice and the outside world a better place. This weekend he was honored for his efforts with the Neil deGrasse Tyson Commencement Award for Civic Service and Communication.
Each year, the university honors a graduate who exemplifies the values and ideals of the commencement speaker. Warudkar, who received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering Saturday, was selected for the award because of his impactful climate-change research and outreach to the Rice and Houston communities.
“(The award) is a particular honor because I was on the committee that handles the speaker selection,” Warudkar said. “Neil deGrasse Tyson was my top choice, which makes this a double dream come true.”
As a member of George Hirasaki’s and Michael Wong’s chemical engineering research groups, Warudkar focused on developing processes for carbon capture (CO2 removal) from power plants, procedures that can have a significant positive impact on the environment and climate change. He was also responsible for writing a grant to the U.S. Department of Energy on behalf of Hirasaki’s team, which resulted in $1 million in funding to support its research on carbon capture.
“CO2 emissions are a serious environmental problem, so whatever steps we can make toward improving technology in power plants is a major step forward,” Warudkar said.
Warudkar will continue his work on CO2 emissions technology. He recently accepted a position with Shell’s technology center in Houston and will work in the Energy Efficiency and CO2 Utilities group, where he’ll serve as his group’s focal point for research and development.
Outside of the laboratory, Warudkar was an active member of the Rice community. He was involved in the Graduate Student Association, or GSA, (historian, spring 2010; secretary, 2010-11 and president, 2011-12), the Rice Cricket Club (president, 2008-10) and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (vice-president in 2008-09; president in 2009-10).
Under his leadership of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the chapter was recognized as one of the most-promising chapters worldwide. And as president of the GSA, Warudkar oversaw numerous events, including the Graduate International Culture Night, an annual event celebrating the diversity of the Rice student body; international coffee breaks, which showcase different cultures and nationalities on a monthly basis; the 2011-2012 regional conference for the National Association for Graduate and Professional Students, which attracted students from the Gulf Coast states, Oklahoma and New Mexico; and volunteer efforts with the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center and the Houston Food Bank.
Warudkar also collaborated with Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Paula Sanders, Rice Housing and Dining and residential college presidents to expand dining options by creating the first graduate student meal plan.
Warudkar received high praise in his nomination letters, including one from Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane.
“Sumedh did a commendable job of balancing his obligations to graduate students and to the larger university,” she said. “One small but significant token of that was the Brandy Award given by Public Affairs to the GSA for doing a much better job of employing Rice’s logo and other identity assets in their materials. That is rare and sought-after recognition, and it represents his ongoing efforts to make graduate students feel like an important and valued part of this community. He was also a wonderful partner and contributor during the buildup to Rice’s centennial. Thanks in no small part to his efforts, graduate students felt part of that historic moment for the university.”
He said the best part of his campus and community involvement was “the opportunity to interact with amazing people.”
“It’s really helped me develop as a person,” Warudkar said. “I’m also really happy that projects I worked on, such as the graduate meal plan, will benefit students for years to come.”
During his tenure at Rice, Warudkar received the GSA’s Robert Lowry Patten Award (2011), which honors graduate students for service and achievements; the GSA Service Award (2012), which recognizes graduate students for contributions of time, effort and service to improving graduate student life and education at Rice; and the International Trade Center of Houston’s International Student of the Year Award (2012). At graduation, Warudkar was also honored with the Sallyport Award, presented by the Association of Rice Alumni (ARA) for the great promise he shows in carrying forth the mission of the ARA upon graduation.
Warudkar said he is grateful for both the awards and his overall experience at Rice.
“The focus that Rice puts on its international students and maintaining an open environment for everyone is very refreshing and important for the development of everyone who is on the Rice campus,” he said. “I’m so appreciative of the opportunities that have been made available to me as a student here.”