Engineering Students Ponnaluri, Wagner Receive Hancher-Finkbine Honors

Two College of Engineering students received some of the University of Iowa's highest honors April 12 at the 99th Finkbine Dinner.  They are Sailahari Ponnaluri and Samantha Wagner, both majoring in biomedical engineering.

Ponnaluri received the Distinguished Student Leader Award.  She will graduate this spring with a degree in biomedical engineering, with honors, and with a special emphasis in cardiovascular biomechanics. Her current research project with Edward Sander, professor of biomedical engineering, uses state-of-the-art biological assay and imaging techniques to help limit scar formation in human tissues. This project led Ponnaluri to an experiential-learning opportunity as a software-development intern with IDx LLC, a company working on advanced optical-imaging methods for disease diagnosis and treatment.

Ponnaluri has held two elected positions for the professional engineering fraternity Theta Tau, is an Engineering professional development peer advisor, served as the high school conference chair for the Society of Women Engineers, mentors for the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Iowa, and is lead tutor for the College of Engineering. Her volunteer work includes promoting the success of the FIRST Tech Challenge program as a judges’ assistant, community outreach chair, and coach; participating for the past three years at the University of Iowa Dance Marathon; and volunteering as a Veteran’s Hospital service escort.

Wagner, a senior member of the women’s diving team from Marion, IA, received the Robert Ray Faculty Athletic Representative Award.  She will graduate in December 2016 with a BSE in biomedical engineering. As a member of the Hawkeye diving team, Wagner is a three-time letter winner and member of the 2015 and 2016 Big Ten Championship teams. She posted personal-best scores in the 1-meter springboard (265.50) and 3-meter springboard (208.12) and registered a top-five finish during the 2013–14 season. She was named Academic All-Big Ten twice during her career and made the UI dean’s list for two consecutive semesters.

Wagner was service chair for the Iowa Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (ISAAC) during the 2015–16 academic year. She is a past participant of the Hawkeye HealthCARE program, where she gained valuable experience with and exposure to various health care fields. She has conducted research under the direction of UI faculty and volunteered in the emergency department at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Following graduation, she plans to attend medical school.

In 1917, William Finkbine and Carl Kuhnle hosted the first awards dinner for UI men. In 1921, Finkbine’s daughter, Dorothy Finkbine Sauers, and her aunts introduced a similar dinner for women. The events were combined in 1972, and to this day are supported by an endowment established by W. Finkbine, as well as other alumni, friends, and the UI Foundation.