Meet Our Diversity Ambassadors

Lama Abufares

Lama Abufares

Lama is a second-year Doctoral student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, focusing on Transportation Engineering. She received her bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Birzeit University, Palestine in 2020. As part of the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) research team, Lama is interested in ground-penetrating radar (GPR) applications for highway and airfield pavements.

While at UIUC, she has been a member of many student and university bodies: Engineering Graduate Student Advisory Committee (EGSAC), Inclusion Diversity Equity and Access (IDEA) institute, Arab American Association of Engineers and Architects (AAAEA), ASCE Transportation Development Institute (TDI), Illini Strings Orchestra, Ballet Folklorico Mitotiani (traditional Mexican dance), and LaFuerzaFlamenca (Spanish Flamenco Dance). She helped organize the Kent Seminar Series in 2020-2023. She was also a research mentor for an underrepresented undergraduate student in Fall 2022. She hopes to be a professor after graduation.

Lama enjoys group sport activities like volleyball, frisbee, soccer and tennis. She is a foodie and likes trying new foods and restaurants. Ask Lama for restaurant recommendations around Champaign-Urbana!

Nathanael Assefa

Nathanael Assefa

Nathanael Assefa, a doctoral student in Computer Science, organizes the UIUC Machine Learning Seminar. He has developed a handful of funded recurrent academic offerings to enrich the experience of undergraduate students and early-stage Ph.D.s in his Department and the broader Grainger Engineering community.

Hadjer Benkraouda

Hadjer Benkraouda

Hadjer Benkraouda is a 4th year Ph.D. student in Computer Science. Her research focuses on analyzing the security of IoT devices. She graduated from United Arab Emirates University with a BSc in Electrical Engineering and then an M.Sc in Cybersecuirty from New York University.

Living in different places and being a woman in STEM have given Hadjer the opportunity to experience being in different positions. This has shaped her opinion on diversity and inclusion initiatives. In the past, she has participated in panels and mentorship programs for women in STEM.

In her free time, Hadjer likes to run, knit, go to CU Women’s boxing gym, or watch historical documentaries (or any documentary that is narrated by David Attenborough).

photo of Nurila Kambar

Nurila Kambar

Nurila is a fifth year Ph.D. student in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at UIUC. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering with a minor in Physics from Alfred University in 2019. As a part of the Leal research group, Nurila is interested in elucidating polymer-lipid hybrid materials at the colloidal scale.

During her years at UIUC, she was a mentor for undergraduate student as part of ISUR (Illinois Scholars Undergraduate Research) program, was a board member in the GradSWE (Graduate Society of Women Engineers) and TBP (The Engineering Honor Society), and was engaged in a number of outreach events as part of her role as a UIUC community member.

Nurila is originally from Almaty, Kazakhstan. She is interested in traveling, fashion, and reading classic novels. She also was part of the varsity tennis team throughout her undergraduate years and loves both watching and playing tennis.

photo of Gabriel Muniz-Negron

Gabriel Muñiz Negrón

Gabriel Muñiz Negrón was born and raised in Puerto Rico where he received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering, specializing in Applied Electromagnetics, from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM) in 2021. During his time at UPRM, Gabriel served as a volunteer tutor and student guide where he helped prepare students for their transition from high school to college life and guide them throughout their first year. Throughout his undergraduate career, Gabriel also worked with different student organization in outreach and scientific education activities aimed at promoting and demystifying STEM careers for people from all backgrounds.

Currently, Gabriel is a third year Electrical Engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he currently studies microwave switch linearity in reconfigurable antennas. Although he is an electrical engineer, Gabriel is afraid of electricity and doesn’t see himself working as an engineer. Instead, he wishes to work in higher education where he can combine his love for antenna engineering with his passion for equitable access to higher education.

Brittany Payan

Brittany Payan

Brittany is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Bioengineering program. She is a member of the Gaj lab, which focuses on the development of gene therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. Her project aims to combine gene editing technologies along with cell replacement therapy as a treatment for Huntington’s Disease.

As a continued member of the BMES, she has demonstrated effective leadership and excellent communication skills. She has also shown a great commitment to aiding diversity in engineering through her work with the Scholar Enrichment Program at the University of Houston. She now hopes to continue these efforts as a Diversity Ambassador.  

In her spare time, Brittany enjoys baking and watching movies with her cat, Aurora.

Sagar Regmi

Sagar Regmi

Sagar Regmi is a second-year Ph.D. student in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. His research focuses on developing instrumentation for measuring agricultural processes, aiming to revolutionize the field with innovative solutions that positively impact society.

Originally from Nepal, a breathtakingly beautiful country nestled in the foot of the majestic
Himalayas, Sagar's journey in engineering began at Tribhuvan University, where he completed his
bachelor's degree with a major in Mechanical Engineering. Demonstrating a commitment to
sustainable development and societal progress, he pursued double master's degrees in Energy for
Sustainable Social Development and Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, respectively from
Tribhuvan University and North Dakota State University.

Having mentored numerous undergraduate students as a Teaching Assistant and instructor following his masters, Sagar understands the power of education in nurturing talent and fostering global perspectives. He believes in the concept of the global world and cherishes his humble roots, growing up in a serene village surrounded by nature's wonders.

Beyond academia, Sagar finds joy in exploring the outdoors through hiking, cooking, and biking.

photo of Margie Ruffin

Margie Ruffin

Margie Ruffin is currently a fourth-year Doctoral Student in the Computer Science Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, specializing in Cyber Security and Privacy. She graduated with honors from Spelman College, an HBCU, in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science.

Outside of her professional life, she gives back as a champion for underrepresented minorities in STEM as a mentor, teacher, and speaker. She also gives back through community service as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. She is passionate about increasing the number of minorities receiving STEM degrees by increasing the education pipeline starting with K-12 schools. In her free time, she loves to travel to visit her family in Texas, bake, binge watch sci-fi series and being a dog mom.

When Margie graduates with her Ph.D., she will pursue full-time security research at a private company, with the goal of developing tools that highlight poor security and privacy practices in widely used technology that affect vulnerable populations.

photo of Taha Shafa

Taha Shafa

Taha Shafa is a third-year Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign whose active research interests are in the field of dynamic systems and control theory. As a first generation Iranian-American, diversity and inclusion have been central themes in his life. He is excited to meet people from different backgrounds than his, as he did his entire life, and share his experiences to help create a more inclusive culture at UIUC.

Fun fact: He’s really good at cooking crunchy rice! If you don’t know what that is, ask Taha and he'll explain it.

photo of Maddie Stover

Maddie Stover

Maddie Stover is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Physics department. Her research focuses on climate change dynamics, in particular climate sensitivity and feedbacks.

She has a background in LGBTQIA+ advocacy, helping to found her undergraduate institution’s chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and bargaining for gender neutral bathrooms. She also has experience in mental health outreach and advocacy, volunteering as an undergraduate to staff a crisis hotline, lead support group discussions on mental illness, connect students to resources, and destigmatize mental illness. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels she has experience advocating for gender minorities in Physics and coordinating science outreach programs both for the general public and gender minorities in science.

She speaks very beginner French and has extensive knowledge of Ohio voter registration and running stress injuries. She is happy to talk with any grad students in the Grainger College of Engineering about their experiences as a member of an underrepresented group, getting connected to resources, or their program culture in general.

Garrett Williams

Garrett Williams

Garrett R. Williams is a fifth-year physics Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-
Champaign working in experimental atomic and molecular physics. He is an NSF Graduate Research
Fellow, an Alfred P. Sloan Scholar, an Illinois Graduate Fellow, and a Mavis Future Faculty

Williams earned his B.S. in physics and chemistry from Baylor University with departmental honors in 2019. Under co-PIs Bryce Gadway and Brian L. DeMarco, Williams achieved a Bose-Einstein condensate apparatus and now performs experiments on symmetry breaking in Bragg-dressed optical lattices.

Williams has been recognized as an avid science communicator, winning the 2020 APS History of Physics Essay Contest and receiving honorable mention in the 2021 AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition Student Essay Competition. He’s been active in outreach and community-building, helping to organize sessions at the yearly meeting for the National Society of Black Physicists. Notably, he authored the premier article in the #BlackinPhysics Week 2021 article series, which was selected for a 2022 Gold EXCEL Award for Diversity and Inclusion.

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Use this form to learn more about the program, get in touch with an ambassador, ask a question about becoming an ambassador, or request an ambassador’s presence at your event.

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Grainger Engineering departments can request Diversity Ambassador involvement in mentoring, onboarding, and social events. Contact us with your ideas and requests.