College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Engineering impact: Cyclone Engineers honored with top college alumni awards

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Five Cyclone Engineers will receive College of Engineering alumni awards at the ISUAA Honors and Awards Ceremony on Oct. 22 during Homecoming week. 


Iowa State University established the Anson Marston Medal in 1938 in honor of Anson Marston, the first dean of engineering. The Marston Medal recognizes alumni of the College of Engineering for outstanding achievement in advancing engineering science, technology or policy having national and international impact in academics, industry, public services, government or other venues.

Gerald Olson,1958 M.S. Civil Engineering, Phoenix, Arizona

Jerry OlsonGerald Olson is one of the nation’s foremost leaders in geotechnical engineering. From an interest in soil testing as an Iowa State grad student, Olson founded and grew Terracon – an environmental, facilities, geotechnical and materials services company – into a 100% employee-owned, nationwide firm with more than 5,000 employees in offices in nearly every state.

After working on secondary soil testing with the Corp of Engineers, Olson joined Soil Testing Services, one of the earliest geotechnical firms. Olson started as a field engineer and then project engineer. In 1965, he agreed to start a new company called Soil Testing Services of Iowa as president, chief engineer and co-owner. Later, Olson bought out the other owners and renamed the company Terracon.

Terracon became an employee-owned firm, and Olson led the company to outstanding success. In 2021, Terracon ranked among the best on Engineering News­-Record’s list of top engineering firms. Olson also addressed the difficulty for geotechnical firms to find professional liability insurance by joining together with other firms to start and lead Terra Insurance Co.

Upon his retirement, Olson and his wife, Audrey, felt a need to return some of the blessings they had received by supporting Iowa State and Olson’s undergraduate alma mater, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, funding the Olson Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic at Mt. Mercy University, and other philanthropic endeavors. At Iowa State, the Olson Soil Mechanics Laboratory has made possible significant developments in geotechnical research, education and training. Olson also created individual scholarships to help hundreds of students become Cyclone Engineers.

Rao Surampalli, 1985 Ph.D. Civil Engineering, Lenexa, Kansas

Rao SurampalliRao Surampalli is a renowned leader in environmental engineering with a truly worldwide impact on social good and global sustainability. He has combined his wide-ranging innovative and sustainable research activities with humanitarian outreach to develop sustainable environmental management strategies in more than 25 countries.

After decades of service to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Surampalli became the president, CEO, and chief technology officer of the Global Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, which provides technical and research services to develop sustainable communities and societies across the globe.

Surampalli has lent his extensive expertise and service to numerous organizations, ranging from distinguished visiting professorships at eight universities to editing or serving on editorial boards of more than 10 journals and serving on over 75 national and international committees, panels and review boards. Surampalli’s impact on the field has been recognized with more than 30 national honors from professional organizations, including the highest awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, Water Environment Federation, American Academy of Environmental Engineers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the U.S. National Academy of Construction.

The next generations of environmental engineers have benefited from Surampalli’s work as a visiting professor and graduate studies advisor, ensuing that his exceptional mark on the field of environmental engineering will be felt for many decades to come.

Surampalli holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Oklahoma State University in addition to his degree from Iowa State. His over 800 refereed publications and 30 national awards underscore his eminence, and he exemplifies the vision of Iowa State University.

Surampalli is married to Madhavi. They have three children, Preeti, Deepak, Sameer, and four grandchildren, Sophie, Justice, Kiki and Sumaya.



The PACE Award was established in 1968 to recognize superior technical or professional accomplishments in research, development, administration, education and other engineering activities. The citation recognizes alumni eminently known for their professional competence and creativity.

Gopichand Katragadda, 1992 M.S. Electrical Engineering, 1996 Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, Bangalore, India

Gopichand KatragaddaGopichand Katragadda is a visionary leader in artificial intelligence looking to transform outcomes and experiences in healthcare, media and entertainment. He is the founder and CEO of Myelin Foundry, a startup company developing advanced AI tools that automate enhancements in real-time to audio and video streaming.

Prior to starting Myelin Foundry, Katragadda was the group chief technology officer and innovation head of Tata Sons, where he led development of pioneering products and services and strategic technology collaborations across the $100 billion company. He also held leadership positions at GE India Technology Centre and Karta Technologies before following his passion for entrepreneurship.

Katragadda’s expertise and creativity is sought after on numerous boards and advisory councils. He is a director of Bosch India Limited, vice president of the IET board of trustees, and an advisor to several task forces and startups in data science and AI.

Katragadda has authored a book on innovation titled “SMASH,” currently in its second edition. He has over 30 journal publications, five patents, and many invited presentations and citations of his research work. Katragadda earned a bachelor’s in electrical engineering at Bangalore University before completing graduate degrees at Iowa State.

Katragadda met his wife, Seema (’93 M.S. elec engr), while at Iowa State. They have two children, Pranav and Aditi, who both have earned degrees in engineering and will pursue graduate studies.

Srikanth Padmanabhan, 1991 Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering, Columbus, Indiana

Srikanth PadmanabhanSrikanth Padmanabhan is a global leader at the forefront of designing and manufacturing quality, innovative, and energy-efficient products. He is currently the president of the Engine Business at Cummins, a $10 billion segment within the company with over 19,000 employees at 15 global sites, providing 1.5 million engines to customers worldwide.

Since joining Cummins in 1991, Padmanabhan has worked in and led a number of businesses across the company, including as president of Cummins Emissions Solutions, managing director of Cummins Generator Technology, and country manager of Cummins Filtration. His growth in leadership has taken him across the world, from the U.S. to Mexico to the U.K., giving him a unique perspective on solving global engineering problems.

Padmanabhan pairs his vast technical and management expertise with genuine concern for customers’ and employees’ experience. He champions diversity and inclusion in the workplace, so employees feel empowered and supported in their careers.

Padmanabhan is the chairman of the board of the Community Education Coalition in Columbus, Indiana, and a member of the board of advisors for Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus. In addition to his Ph.D. from Iowa State, he holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Trichy, India, where he received the distinguished alumnus award and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. He is also on the board of the public company Leggett and Platt.

Padmanabhan and his wife, Usha, have a daughter, Megna, who is a junior at Indiana University, Bloomington.



The Young Alumni Award recognizes Iowa State University alumni, age 40 and under, who have excelled in their professions and provided service to their communities.

Benazir Fateh, 2013 Ph.D. Computer Engineering, Fremont, California

Benazir FatehBenazir Fateh is a rising star in machine learning and artificial intelligence. In her current position as a machine learning specialist at Google, she helps some of the most recognizable companies in the world to transform their businesses by developing creative and scalable end-to-end machine learning solutions using Google Cloud Platform.  

Prior to joining Google, Fateh quickly climbed the ranks in machine learning, data modeling and software architecture at John Deere and AIEnterprise, a leading digital commerce solutions provider.

During her time at Iowa State, Fateh made a difference to the community and culture of graduate students. She was instrumental in crafting a vacation and sick leave policy for graduate students and organized events promoting networking and community building. Fateh’s contributions led to a Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Recognition of Service Award in 2012.

Fateh is a committed advocate of women in STEM and women’s leadership. In 2021, Fateh was invited to give an address in the Iowa State Women in Data Science (WiDS) lecture series. She is also an ambassador for WiDS, mentors high schoolers interested in STEM careers, and has advised Cyclone Engineering senior design teams. Fateh also serves on the board of SpeakHire, an organization that develops the social and cultural capital of individuals from immigrant families to become leaders in the workforce.  

Fateh is married to Firoz Ali Jaipuri (’06 Ph.D. chemistry). They are originally from India and have two children, Zohar and Zainab.