URI Faculty Member/Alumnus Wins National STEM Advocacy Award

John DiCecco
John DiCecco, photo courtesy of NUWC

By Neil Nachbar

URI’s College of Engineering part-time faculty member John DiCecco, who holds three degrees in electrical engineering from URI, has won a U.S. Department of Defense Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Advocate Award.

The award was presented to DiCecco at the Pentagon Library and Conference Center in Washington, DC during the 2018 Engineers Week celebration.

DiCecco is a full-time engineer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport. According to a NUWC press release, he works with the Center’s educational outreach program, judges science fairs and robotics competitions, guides educational outreach efforts and is active in Science & Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE), an after-school enrichment program.

“My first thought was, I wonder if they made a mistake,” said DiCecco. “I work with so many phenomenal people who are on a mission to advocate for STEM education that I can think of at least a couple hundred people who deserve this recognition more than me.”

DiCecco started teaching in URI’s Department of Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering in 2005. In the spring, he usually teaches Biomedical Instrumentation Design and the associated labs. In the fall semester, DiCecco teaches Medical Imaging and the associated C++ based image processing lab.

“The Electrical Computer and Biomedical Engineering Department at URI is filled with incredible, world-class scholars,” stated DiCecco. “There are professors who have changed the course of history with their research and technology. It all started with a belief that it could be done.”

John DiCecco
Mary Miller, right, performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, and Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, left, director, laboratories office, office of the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, present the DOD STEM Advocate of the Quarter Award to Dr. John DiCecco. U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

One of the professors in the department, Ying Sun, praised DiCecco for his research contributions and his rapport with the engineering students.

“In addition to Dr. DiCecco’s engineering expertise, he has been the most skillful researcher in our group,” said Sun. “He performs neuroscience experiments, inserting microelectrodes into live neurons to record action potentials. He is always generous in sharing his knowledge with the students. Our students benefit a lot from the industry experience he brings to our classroom.”

Timothy O’Connor, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, said, “Dr. DiCecco is a dedicated professor whose personal interest in student learning, combined with his technical expertise, motivated me to become more involved, think outside the box and apply theories in an innovative way.”

About eight years ago, DiCecco became involved in NUWC’s outreach program.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the years with the Navy’s commitment to STEM education and I’m really fortunate to have been welcomed into that community,” said the engineer. “It has profoundly changed the nature of my career in every possible way.”

As if teaching at URI, conducting outreach programs and fulfilling his responsibilities as an engineer at NUWC weren’t enough to keep DiCecco busy, he also mentors interns and apprentices at NUWC.

Christopher Toole, a Ph.D. candidate in the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at URI, has been an intern of DiCecco for the last five years.

“Before I started as an intern at NUWC, I had little direction on what I wanted to do or could do with my degree,” said Toole. “John helped me figure out what my real interests are and how to efficiently pursue them. John was, and continues to be, someone who really cares about the professional and personal development of his students.”

DiCecco holds four engineering degrees from URI, a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering.

“Because I went through the engineering program, I understand the requirements of the students and the deadlines that come with them,” said DiCecco. “It can be pretty stressful in itself to try to navigate that, let alone the stress of coursework and research.”

The students DiCecco works with at URI and NUWC are fortunate to have such an accomplished and supportive mentor in their lives.