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Kansas State University College of Engineering alumni honored for career success

Friday, March 18, 2016


MANHATTAN — The Kansas State University College of Engineering will honor 11 alumni for professional career accomplishment during the first 20 years following their graduation. The honorees will be recognized at ceremonies on the Manhattan campus April 2.

Recipients of the college's Professional Progress Award were nominated by their respective department heads and confirmed by Darren Dawson, dean of engineering.

The following are the 2016 Professional Progress Award honorees:

Ramin Cherafat, Leawood, is a 1996 graduate of Kansas State University in construction science, and also has an MBA from the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is chief operating officer of McCownGordon Construction where his experience includes more than 19 years as a project manager, project executive and vice president for several large commercial construction companies. Cherafat is past chairman of the Olathe Chamber of Commerce and Olathe Economic Development Agency, past chairman of the Design-Build Institute of America Mid-America Chapter, the American Institute of Architects of Kansas City, Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Centurions Leadership Program and Kansas City Civic Council-KC Tomorrow. He currently serves on the board of directors for Children International, the Metropolitan Community Colleges Foundation, Nelson-Atkins Business Council Steering Committee and the University of Missouri, Kansas City alumni board. In 2013 the Kansas City Business Journal recognized him as a NextGen Leader in the Kansas City community.

Rob Caffey, Manhattan, is a 1997 graduate of Kansas State University in computing and information sciences, and is currently working on an MBA, also from the university. He is the director of Kansas State University's Office of Mediated Education, which provides academic application support, development and infrastructure to the university. His primary responsibilities include management of 43 IT professionals providing a broad range of central IT services, including the learning management system, identity and access management, application integration and Web systems engineering. Caffey was recognized by Colleague 2 Colleague, a Kansas and Missouri higher education professional organization, with the 2004 Excellence in Leadership Award. He also serves as vice president of the Teachers and Employees Association board at Kansas State University, and works with area youth as an assistant scoutmaster.

Joel Andrews, Olathe, is a 1997 and 1999 graduate of Kansas State University with his bachelor's and master's degrees, respectively, in electrical engineering. He also holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, 2009. He is a team leader for Garmin International aviation radar products, acting as both project and technical lead. He has designed much of the mm-wave circuitry on multiple designs from blank sheet through production. Andrews is the author of more than a dozen technical papers in the field of electrical engineering and recently received his first patent. He is the main Garmin recruiter for electrical engineers at Kansas State University, and takes pride in hiring and mentoring new graduates and interns alike. He has served on the electrical and computer engineering department advisory board for the past four years. 

Toby Rush, Roeland Park, is a 1998 graduate of Kansas State University in mechanical engineering. He is the CEO and founder of EyeVerify, a company focused on enabling mobile users to authenticate transactions and access information from their mobile devices. Before founding EyeVerify, Rush co-founded and was CEO of Rush Tracking Systems, a radio-frequency identification solutions venture that he grew from two to 75 people. It was later acquired by Pharos Capital, a private equity firm. While with Pharos Capitol, he acquired two companies to consolidate the smart forklift sensor and software space. Rush has led product development and quality assurance for SAT Corp., a venture-funded mobile software company out of Houston. He also started and led the MobilEdge practice group for BSI consulting.

Noel Etzel, Topeka, is a 1999 and 2002 graduate of Kansas State University with his bachelor's and master's degrees, respectively, in nuclear engineering. He is co-owner of Jetz Service Co. Inc., serving as executive vice president. He previously served as regional vice president, corporate pilot and systems administrator. His responsibilities include development of technology and software systems, general oversight of operations and procedures, acquisition coordination and management of the corporate flight department. As a past member of the Topeka Active 20-30 Club, Etzel has served in numerous board positions and received Fundraiser of the Year and Man of the Year awards during his tenure. He is currently serving on the board of Junior Achievement of Kansas and is chairman of the board's development committee. Flying since age 12, he continues to be active in the aviation community, and currently holds an airline transport pilot rating with type ratings in Citation business jets and DC-3 aircraft.

Michelle Munson, Berkeley, California, is a 1996 graduate of Kansas State University in electrical engineering and physics, where she was a Goldwater scholar for achievement in science and mathematics, and later a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University where she received a postgraduate diploma in computer science. The chief executive officer of Aspera Inc., she co-invented Aspera's fasp, a trademarked transport technology, and is responsible for overseeing the company's direction in collaboration with co-founder Serban Simu. Munson was a software engineer in research and startups, including the IBM Almaden Research Center before founding Aspera in 2004. She was the 2006 Kansas State University College of Engineering Alumni Fellow — the youngest recipient on record. She has been named Media and Broadcast Technologist of 2016, and has also received national achievement awards from Glamour magazine and USA Today. She is a frequent speaker on technologies and trends around big data transport, cloud infrastructure and mobility.

Jeff Sawarynski, Arvada, Colorado, is a 1996 graduate of Kansas State University in architectural engineering. He is a managing principal of the global consulting engineering firm ME Engineers Inc. and is a licensed engineer in nine states. Since joining ME Engineers Inc. after graduation, he has led award-winning designs on numerous high-profile building design projects around the country and the world. Considered an industry expert in sports facility design, Sawarynski has authored many technical articles and contributed to facility design standards for professional sports leagues. A contributing author to an industry guide for sustainable design, he has served on the building code committee for the city of Denver. At present, in addition to continued leadership on active design projects, his primary roles include general oversight of department, staff and corporate affairs, and direct oversight of operations in the Denver, Kansas City and Houston offices. He has served on the advisory council for architectural engineering and construction science department at Kansas State University since 2010.

Michelle Soupir, Ames, Iowa, is a 1999 graduate of Kansas State University in biological and agricultural engineering. She also has master's and doctoral degrees, both in biological systems engineering, from Virginia Tech University. Currently an associate professor with a research and teaching appointment in the agricultural and biosystems engineering department at Iowa State University, her research program is focused on soil and water quality, nonpoint source pollution control, watershed management and water quality monitoring. She teaches courses generally focused on water quality and professional development, having developed a new watershed modeling course. Soupir's professional accomplishments include 42 peer-reviewed journal articles, more than $5 million in external grant funding, and being a recipient of the New Holland Young Researcher Award in 2014 from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

Brian Zerr, New York City, New York, is a 1997 graduate of Kansas State University in industrial engineering. He also has an MBA from Arizona State University. Currently head of operational risk oversight for American Express, he is responsible for ongoing monitoring of key risks in the company, including anti-money laundering, information security and third-party lifecycle management. Zerr and his team conduct independent reviews of strategies, policies, frameworks, standards, processes and controls across the company to improve outcomes. Throughout his 17-year career with American Express, he has had positions of increasing responsibility in both credit and operational risk. He has worked in both U.S. and international card businesses, including a short-term assignment in Madrid, Spain, where he served as chief credit officer.

Justin Baker, Beaumont, Texas, is a 1996 graduate of Kansas State University in chemical engineering. He also has an MBA from the University of Houston. Baker is a process department head for the ExxonMobil integrated petrochemical complex in Beaumont. His responsibilities include management of the day-to-day operation of a 900 kTa Olefins Steam Cracker and various Aromatics units, totaling 900 kTa capacity with a focus on safety, environmental, reliability, cost and production performance of the units. He has been with ExxonMobil for 20 years, holding a variety of manufacturing and business planning positions within the chemicals division of the company. Baker has served as a member of the ExxonMobil recruiting team since 2000, helping to hire more than 100 Kansas State University engineers into the company.

Jay Cavnar, Herndon, Virginia, is a 1996 graduate of Kansas State University in civil engineering. He has served nearly 19 years as a Navy Civil Engineer Corps officer, working around the globe leading diverse teams in the engineering, management, planning, construction and maintenance of the Navy's shore facilities, as well as its construction capabilities for expeditionary and contingency operations. He is also a Navy diving officer, with a master's degree in ocean engineering from Texas A&M University, providing specialized engineering oversight for the Navy's waterfront facilities, moorings and underwater utilities. Currently, Cavnar is serving in Washington, D.C., at the headquarters for Navy Installations as the program director for shore energy and utilities for the Navy's 70 installations worldwide. He is a licensed professional engineer and a certified energy manager.


Professional Progress Award

News tip

Leawood, Manhattan, Olathe, Roeland Park and Topeka, Kansas; Berkeley, California; Arvada, Colorado; Ames, Iowa; New York City, New York; Beaumont, Texas; and Herndon, Virginia

Written by

Mary Rankin

At a glance

Professional career accomplishments during their first 20 years following graduation from Kansas State University has earned 11 College of Engineering alumni the college's Professional Progress Award.