Introducing the 2021 Microgrant Global Jury

Announcement | July 30, 2021

Akshar Patel

Akshar Patel is director of corporate innovation at the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship (Kaplan Institute) at Illinois Tech. His background includes career coaching, design thinking, university enrollment, fundraising and non-profit development. Akshar also teaches interdisciplinary design classes in the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) at Illinois Tech. His classes focus on human-centered design for developing countries and social innovation. Patel has worked on projects in Nicaragua to provide housing and education to communities in need. He is currently on the board of FNE International, an organization that partners with communities in developing nations to identify opportunities to advance housing, health and education. Before joining Kaplan Institute, Akshar held roles in Career Services and Institutional Advancement at Illinois Tech and worked in enrollment at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. Akshar holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology and a Masters of Education from the University of Vermont along with a certification as a Global Career Development Facilitator, GCDF.


Jessica Burnham

Jessica Burnham has a BFA in Communication Design from the Metropolitan State University of Denver and an MFA in Design Research and Innovation from the University of North Texas. Her design interests lie in bringing design to unexpected places, like civic engagement, local governance, and other hyper-local efforts. Her research focused on transitioning from Communication Design to Designed Communication and her efforts led to creating a business association on Lowest Greenville Avenue called the Lowest Greenville Collective. This led to her role as the Executive Director of the Deep Ellum Foundation where she helped manage the neighborhood, designed public safety systems, and represented the area as large projects in the city came about. Currently, she is the Program Director and Clinical Assistant Professor of the Master of Arts in Design and Innovation (MADI) program at SMU. This program teaches students from all different backgrounds to use Human-Centered Design to creatively solve and improve unwieldy problems. Jessica lives in Richardson, Texas with her husband and two boys.


David Lehrer

David Lehrer serves as communications director and frequently as a member of the research team. He is the primary liaison between CBE’s industry consortium members and the research team, and he oversees CBE’s research portfolio and industry/university collaborations. He is a frequent speaker on building performance and technology, and has led research on visualizing information in commercial buildings post-occupancy evaluation. David previously practiced architecture for 11 years on a broad range of project types. He has been an adjunct faculty member at the California College of the Arts (CCA) where he taught green building and interdisciplinary design. He serves on the Advisory Council for the Emerging Technologies Coordinating Council (ETCC). David is a licensed architect and holds an M.Arch degree from UC Berkeley and a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Arizona.


Tarek Rakha

Dr. Tarek Rakha is an architect, building scientist and educator. He is an Assistant Professor of Architecture and Director of the High Performance Building Lab (HPBL) at Georgia Tech. His research aims to influence architecture, urban design and planning practices through three areas of expertise: 1) Urban and building performance simulation; 2) Built environment vulnerability diagnostics using heat mapping Computer Vision drones, and 3) Microclimate simulation and infrastructure inspection for comfortable, walkable and bikeable neighborhoods and cities. Before joining Georgia Tech in 2019, he was Assistant Professor at Syracuse University starting in 2015, after earning his Ph.D. in Building Technology from MIT. He published more than 40 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers, and two of which won best paper awards. His research is sponsored by federal agencies such as the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and from state authorities such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the Georgia DOT (GDOT), as well as corporate sponsors.

He was recently nationally recognized by the Emerging Contributor Award of the American chapter of the International Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA-USA). He was also awarded the Georgia Tech Student Recognition of Excellence in Teaching: Class of 1934 Award. Dr. Rakha serves international scholarly conferences through his leadership, as he was invited to the Symposium on Simulation for Architecture and Urban Design’s board (SimAUD), and served as the 2018 General Chair in TU Delft and as the 2019 Program Chair for its 10 year anniversary in Georgia Tech. He was also a Scientific Track Chair for the 2018 International Building Physics Conference (IBPC).


Milagros Zingoni Phielipp

Associate Professor Milagros Zingoni joined the University of Tennessee as the Director of the School of Interior Architecture, in January of 2021 (in the middle of the pandemic). Before this, she was an Associate Professor (with tenure) at Arizona State University where she started her academic career 16 years ago. During this tenure, she taught for nine years in Architecture and Urban Design, before joining the Interior Design Program in where she created and developed the Master in Interior Architecture. Zingoni is originally from Argentina, where she is a registered architect, and has additional study in habitat design and urban and environmental planning. Milagros’s experience as both a designer, planner and educator allow her to move easily across scales: from the city to the scale of the body.

Her research includes developing pedagogical approaches that can enable design student to develop empathy and collaboration skills, expanding design-build studios in interior design and interior architecture and cross disciplinary design thinking. Zingoni leverages the resources of Public Research 1 Land Grand universities to empower underserved communities through design as a means to develop pedagogical and experiential settings that address new ways of learning, emphasizing problem solving skills and collaboration that creates communities of learning. Her studios focus on community and commitment to public engagement through participatory design-build collaboration. Zingoni was recognized in 2019 by the Interior Design Educator’s Council (IDEC) with the National Teaching Excellence Award, by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Arizona Chapter with the honor of 2019 Educators of the Year Award, by the annual DesignIntelligence rankings as one of the top twelve most admired educators in the country and by Arizona State University 2020 Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awards. Zingoni is a strong advocate for community causes, serving on multiple non-profit and civic boards.


Manolis Stavrakakis

Manolis Stavrakakis was born in Herakleion Crete in 1981. He studied architecture in Athens, (BA, MArch, MA at NTUA), in New York (MSc in Advanced Architectural Design at GSAPP as a Fullbright scholar) and in London (Ph.D. at Architectural Association). He has been teaching History and Theory and Design at the AA and at the Bartlett School of Architecture, U.C.L. since 2014. He is currently practicing, teaching, and researching as an architect in Athens and in London. His research focuses on issues of visual representation, decoding, and visual perception.


Dena Ziari

Dena Ziari completed her postgraduate studies in History and Theory of Architecture at the AA and has been part of the faculty teaching history of architecture at the AA since 2010. She is also visiting lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire and University of Navarra and previously at the Aarhus School of Architecture. Her research interests focus on the intersection of psychiatry and urbanism with the development and growth of the city from the late 19th Century.