College of Engineering and Applied Sciences recognizes its 2023 Presidential Scholars

Contact: Cindy Wagner

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences is honoring seven outstanding students as its 2023 Presidential Scholars, the highest academic honor that Western can bestow on its undergraduates. Selection is based on a student's general academic excellence, academic and artistic excellence relative to their majors, and intellectual and artistic promise.

Tawfiq Abuaita

Tawfiq Abuaita

Presidential Scholar in Electrical and Computer Engineering


Tawfiq Abuaita, B.S.E.’22, of Palestine, is an embedded software project engineer at Vector North America in Novi, Michigan, a position he accepted after graduation in December 2022. At WMU, he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.

“I am excited to be working on embedded software projects that contribute to the rapid development of the automotive industry. Embedded software technologies are going to be developed so fast in the future and I am looking forward to being part of this development and to using and developing my software and hardware skills in this industry,” he says

Abuaita’s long-range goals are to continue working on embedded software projects in the Autosar platforms or possibly other architectures. He also has an interest in CPU performance, artificial intelligence and field programmable gate arrays.

During his time at Western, Abuaita held numerous on-campus positions, including computer engineering assistant, senior content tutor, math and physics learning assistant, student office clerk and dining hall assistant. He speaks four languages—Arabic, English, Turkish and German.

“I have lots of memories at WMU. As an international student from Palestine, getting accepted into WMU and starting a new student life at WMU was not easy but a worthy experience that I am very proud of,” says Abuaita. “I remember it all from the student orientation, starting my first week of classes, to my first on campus job in the international admissions and services office. Later, I got multiple other on-campus positions including learning assistant, supplemental instructor, research assistant, tutor, and grader. I have lots of memories with all these positions from working with Dr. Lina Sawalha on research to helping students with their classes at the Student Success Centers. WMU has given me a lot of opportunities to grow, and it has eventually become my second home!”

Follow Tawfiq on LinkedIn to see where his career takes him.

Matthew Baker

Matthew Baker

Presidential Scholar in Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering and Engineering Management 

Matthew Baker of Williamston, Michigan, says he believes that growth occurs when you work as hard as possible to figure out a solution. It is an adage that guides Baker’s pursuits and something he puts into action as an industrial and entrepreneurial engineering and engineering management student at WMU. He is currently exploring his post-graduation career options and is set to take on management consulting roles.

“I am most excited about the continuous learning opportunities presented in management consulting,” says Baker, who is seeking a Tier 1 management consulting position and eventually hopes to work as a strategist at a Fortune 250 company. “Being able to immerse myself into a difficult problem a company is having and provide a solution is very powerful.”

To prepare for his future, Baker took on numerous professional activities as a student, including two summer internships at GM, one as a continuous improvement intern and another as a quality engineer intern. While there, he completed a waste elimination through production inspections project. He also worked with WMU’s Invisible Need Project to identify bottlenecks in the food pantry donation process.

And while his academic and professional experiences are preparing him for a promising career, Baker’s favorite memories of Western involve the people he has met.

“The best part of college has been the great relationships I have formed with my professors and peers within the IEE program,” says Baker. “My four years at WMU would not have been as successful or enjoyable without them.”

Samuel Hall

Presidential Scholar in Civil and Construction Engineering

Samuel Hall is a civil engineering student from Richland, Michigan. His interests are in transportation engineering, particularly bicyclist- and pedestrian-friendly design. He has held internships with Michigan Department of Transportation performing materials testing, HNTB assisting with highway design, and Wightman aiding site design and survey projects.

He was an Institute of Transportation Engineers Student Section Scholarship winner. He plans to work with design firms and engage communities to find ways to ensure that traffic design works for people as much as it does vehicles. He was co-captain of Concrete Canoe, student treasurer of American Society Of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and president of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society.

John Goheen

John Goheen

Presidential Scholar in Engineering Design, Manufacturing and Management Systems

John Goheen is a manufacturing engineering technology major from Sandusky, Michigan. He is setting his sights on a position in industrial, large-scale manufacturing with a focus on improving and creating more sustainable manufacturing processes. In the future, he hopes to take on a management position in an engineering and production firm and wants to actively develop and oversee various manufacturing projects and processes that will positively impact society and improve sustainability.

“I am most excited about the technological and societal growth we are seeing in the manufacturing industry, whether it be the determination to create a more sustainable future, or the accessibility of new technologies leading the way into Industry 4.0: the 4th Industrial Revolution. Being at the forefront of the industry during this time of change is exciting, and I look forward to seeing the impact I can make,” he says.

Goheen first developed his interests as a seventh-generation worker on his family farm.

“My family farm specializes in USDA organic crop that is featured in restaurants such as Chipotle and from large food companies like Eden Foods. Being the 7th generation to work and take care of the land has given me great experience in problem solving, mechanical ability, and learning about how certain systems operate,” Goheen adds.

While at WMU, Goheen completed several internships including as a process and quality engineering intern at Brembo North America, a manufacturing engineering intern at Odyssey Tool and a manufacturing engineering intern at Production Development Solutions. In addition, he worked as a student ambassador in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He was an exhaust system project engineer for Western’s Formula SAE team and served as a vice president of Delta Sigma Phi.

“Some of my most memorable experiences at WMU came from taking advantage of all opportunities and getting involved around campus,” says Goheen. “From meeting new friends and colleagues, attending football and hockey games, and taking part in various student organizations, to being challenged through meaningful internships and classes, the many memories I have made at WMU are some of my most cherished.”

Tyler Johnson

Tyler Johnson

Presidential Scholar in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Tyler Johnson is a mechanical engineering student from Saint Charles, Illinois. He says he not only wants a career as a mechanical engineer, but he also wants to share his love of design as an educator in the future. Currently, Johnson is an engineering intern at FEMA Corporation and plans to work there as a full-time engineer after graduation. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in the future.

“I hope to use my engineering skills to design new valves at FEMA,” says Johnson. “It’s such a good feeling to design something based on engineering principles and then be able to make it in the real world.”

Johnson is most excited about working with complex principles to make real-world products and explain real-world concepts. “There is something about a well-thought-out design that makes me so proud of my work.”

He also says he can’t wait to share his passion for mechanical engineering and design with future engineers.

“Instructors make such a difference in course enjoyment, and I want to be the teacher that everyone loves,” says Johnson. “Once I get my master’s degree, I’d like to lead a high school or college course and teach students that superpower.”

But college wasn’t all studying and working for Johnson. He says he loves that Western gave him the opportunity to experience so much outside his chosen field. One of his favorite memories was attending an avant-garde jazz concert.

“In a spur-of-the-moment decision, my roommate and I decided to go to an avant-garde jazz concert on campus. We were met with some of the most bizarre music I’d ever heard. It was really fun, and I set some of the music as my alarm tone,” says. Johnson. “WMU is full of interesting experiences, and I’m really glad to have branched out and tried new things.”

Zahi Sanchez

Zahi Sanchez

Presidential Scholar in Chemical and Paper Engineering

Zahi Sanchez is a chemical engineering student from the Dominican Republic. She plans to become a licensed professional engineer and work around the world solving environmental problems. And she is set to begin that career as an environmental engineer at Billerud in Escanaba, Michigan.

“I’m looking forward to being part of PFAS removal from wastewater, nutrient extraction from water, removal of micro-plastics from water and air quality improvement,” says Sanchez.

With excitement about learning from other, more experienced engineers, Sanchez strives become a valuable asset to a team and is looking forward to leads his own projects and having the creative liberty to experiment on innovative ideas in the pulp and paper field.

“I feel like my education will continue once I graduate as I will be implementing the knowledge obtained in the last four years,” says Sanchez. “I may learn from mistakes and discover that sometimes, even though the calculations are reasonable, the overall project might not be feasible. I look forward to digging deeper and researching, with the purpose of obtaining the most sustainable solution.”

And Sanchez will be right at home meeting her new challenges. “My time at WMU helped me build character and become comfortable in the uncomfortable,” says Sanchez. “As an international student, coming to Western cemented a feeling of empowerment. It allowed me to share interests with people from all over the world, making connections that go beyond a classroom. Overall, the opportunities given at Western are endless and I’m so grateful to be able to call myself a WMU Bronco.”

Sebastian Smiley

Sebastian Smiley

Presidential Scholar in Computer Science

Sebastian Smiley is a computer science major from Mattawan, Michigan, who is pursuing a multidisciplinary career in data science and computer science. He plans to graduate in spring 2023, then begin the accelerated master’s program in fall 2023.

“It’s my belief that many of the most interesting questions lie at the intersection of big data and modern technology,” says Smiley. “One aspect of my career that I’m most looking forward to is solving real-world problems. Whether it’s creating an elegant program or extracting insights from complex data, solving these sorts of puzzles is greatly satisfying to me. I imagine that enjoyment will increase once I know that my work is helping people live better lives.”

One of the main reasons Smiley became interested in data science and computer science is because both have broad applications. “Almost every modern industry requires—or benefits greatly from—business analysts and software developers.”

Smiley started his college path at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, earning his associate degree by the time he graduated from high school. He then transferred to Western and plans to continue studying his chosen field as an accelerated master’s student at WMU beginning fall 2023.

While Smiley continues to soak up knowledge, he also appreciates the experiences he has had through all the opportunities Western has to offer. He has served as secretary of the WMU Computer Club and worked on the communications team of the WMU Google Developer Student Club.

“Despite only being at WMU for a brief period, it has made a big impact on my life, both as an institution and as a community. The best example of this has been my involvement in the WMU Computer Club: the welcoming camaraderie of like-minded peers has been a wonderful experience,” he says.

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