With much of the world now socially distanced to stem the tide of a global pandemic, it seems a lifetime ago that more than 220 attendees gathered on the evening of Feb. 28 to attend the 2020 Hall of Fame Celebration for the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) and Samueli School of Engineering. There was no way to know that widespread quarantines were just around the corner, but this year’s event could not have happened at a better time — or place. As UCI alumni and their family and friends, along with faculty and staff, playfully explored a room full of interactive science-based exhibits, there was no doubting that the Discovery Cube Orange County was the perfect place to honor the achievements of computer scientists and engineers.
After conducting mini experiments and testing out various contraptions, as well as enjoying an assortment of cocktails and hor d’oeuvres, the crowd headed upstairs to the theater. There, they received a warm welcome from ICS alumnus and past Hall of Fame inductee, Tim Kashani, B.S. ’86.
“Welcome to the fifth annual Hall of Fame Celebration,” said Kashani, co-founder of Apples and Oranges Studios. “Tonight is about celebrating an amazing group of people.” First, however, he took some time to celebrate a few of UCI’s recent accolades.
“No surprise, UCI was ranked No. 1 for in-state freshman applications, and No. 2 among all UC campuses for the fall of 2020,” he stated. Kashani also noted that UCI is the top choice for first-generation college students and those from low-income families and underrepresented groups for the second year in a row. In addition, he announced that the number of graduate and undergraduate applications for ICS and engineering is at an all-time high, with more than 18,000 applications for fall 2020. “There were only 10,000 on campus when I went to school here,” he recalled, before returning his attention to the focal point of the night — the accomplished alumni being inducted in the Hall of Fame.
Kashani then invited ICS Dean Marios Papaefthymiou to the stage to introduce the four inductees for ICS.
Papaefthymiou began by showcasing the close relationship and shared activities between the schools of ICS and engineering. “One of the most visible displays of our collaboration can be seen in the new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building, which has been coming off the ground for the past 18 months, just west of Donald Bren Hall,” he said. Slated for completion in fall of 2020, the building will help foster continued collaboration as faculty and students work on interdisciplinary projects focused on biomedicine for human health, and energy use and the environment.
“But while we keep an eye on the future,” he noted, “we’re here to celebrate the past and the achievements of our alumni.”
Papaefthymiou first shined the spotlight on Greg Bolcer, who earned his Ph.D. in 1998 and B.S. in 1989 from UCI in ICS and his M.S. from USC. Bolcer started his career working for Professor Richard Taylor as a DARPA-funded programmer in ICS and went on to co-found Encryptanet with fellow ICS alumnus Clay Cover. Encryptanet launched its first product, Paycloud, as the first and only PayPal micropayments partner. Currently, Bolcer serves as the chief data officer for Bitvore Corp., which has been recognized twice as one of Orange County’s best tech startups by the Tech Tribune.
Next, Papaefthymiou recognized Ersin Uzun, who received his Ph.D. in 2010 and M.S. in 2006 in computer science. As an active member of the security research community, Uzun has contributed to more than 100 influential patents and publications with over 5,000 citations to his field. Earlier in his career, Uzun co-founded Identillect Technologies and architected its security products as an entrepreneur. Today, he is the vice president of R&D at Palo Alto Research Center and the global head of IoT ventures, which is responsible for creating and incubating new IoT businesses for the Xerox Holding Co.
The third inductee of the night was Rosalva Gallardo Valencia, who received her Ph.D. in 2012 and M.S. in 2009 in ICS. She received her B.S. degree in informatics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Today she is a senior program manager at Google in Silicon Valley, where she leads global programs to advocate for both Strategic 3rd Party Software Developers and Google Developer Products. Gallardo Valencia is committed to empowering women and Latinas to be leaders in the field of computing, and she has led the Google.org collaboration with Laboratoria, which continues to transform tech education for women in Latin America.
The final ICS inductee, David Wood, wasn’t present, but his father and son were in attendance, and Kashani accepted the award on his behalf. Wood received his B.S. in ICS and earned his MBA from the University of Washington Foster School of Business. He spent much of his career developing a wide range of Microsoft products, including early versions of Microsoft Word and Excel. After leaving Microsoft, he served as a management consultant for tech companies and larger clients including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, and Sony Corp. Today, he is CEO of Eventene, a software company he founded that creates applications to streamline the organization and management of group events. He also serves on the ICS Leadership Council, volunteers weekly for a local Scout Troop, and serves on the Board of the Western LA County Council for Scouts BSA.
Engineering Dean Gregory Washington was then welcomed to the podium to introduce the engineering inductees. “The value of the UCI degree has never been worth more than it is today,” he started, “and the reason it is worth so much, the reason it is so highly valued and highly coveted today… is because of the success of the individuals in this room.”
Such individuals include Amit Shah, the first of five engineering inductees. Shah earned his B.S.E.E. from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda before coming to UCI to do graduate work in electrical engineering. His 20+ year career has focused on early-stage investments and creating globally renowned businesses where technology innovation and markets intersect. Prior to establishing his current company, Artiman Ventures, he founded a company called Zeitnet. Shah has also shared his talents to help other startups succeed and currently sits on the boards of Ultrasense, Tonbo Imaging and Niron Magnetics.
The next inductee, Aziz Hashim, graduated with honors in 1988 with his B.S. in electrical engineering. In 1996, he founded NRD Holdings — a franchise development and holding company. What started as a single location in Atlanta blossomed and led to Hashim operating global franchise brands, including Popeye’s, KFC, Taco Bell and Domino’s Pizza. In 2018, Nation’s Restaurant News named him one of the 10 most influential leaders in the restaurant industry. He created the NRD Foundation to support nonprofit and for-profit international organizations that create entrepreneurs, foster financial independence, and power academic research focused on franchise entrepreneurship.
Washington then recognized John Lenell, who received his B.S. in electrical engineering in 1990 and his M.S. in 1992. Lenell has the distinction of being the 25th employee at Broadcom Corp., where he began in 1995. Over the course of his 20 years there, he served as an engineer, manager, and director of multiple product families and engineering teams, and ultimately transitioned to a position as senior director of strategic investments. Lenell is currently the CEO and co-founder of technology startup Qxonis. He also serves as a member of the UCI Alumni Association’s Board and the Engineering Dean’s Leadership Council and is on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County.
Ameesh Divatia was honored next. Divatia moved to the U.S. from India to pursue a M.S. degree in electrical engineering and graduated in 1989. After seven years of work experience, he began his entrepreneurial journey by co-founding Pipelinks with fellow inductee Amit Shah and serving as its chief technology officer. Today, Divatia is cofounder and CEO of Baffle, a cybersecurity company that provides a privacy preserving analytics solution for enterprise data stores. His passion has led him to mentoring young startups via his incubation venture, Incarta, which helps to secure seed funding and provides business development guidance to less experienced entrepreneurs.
The final 2020 inductee recognized was Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, who graduated in 1989 with an M.S. in mechanical engineering. After five years in industry, in the Water and Sanitation Division of the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington DC, Miralles-Wilhelm decided to return to the academic world. He is currently chair and professor of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science at the University of Maryland, where he also directs the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center. His research interests are modeling of surface and groundwater systems, climate-hydrology-vegetation interactions, water quality and modeling of the water-energy-food nexus.
Sentiments of Gratitude
After the inductees had been recognized, one from each school was invited to speak on behalf of his or her fellow inductees, starting with engineering inductee John Lenell.
“I feel very privileged to be able to share a few words with you about my experience at UCI that impacted my path to being here tonight,” he began, recalling how, as an 8-year-old boy, he had always dreamed of being inducted into the Hall of Fame. “The NFL Hall of Fame,” he quickly clarified, as the audience joined him in laughter. “So how did I end up here?”
He talked about how he was influenced at a young age by his father, a career McDonnell Douglas engineer with “a pocket protector, slide rule and Apple II computer.” Yet he also talked about the importance of opportunity.
“It is said that success is when hard work and opportunity meet, and I can see from the impressive bio list tonight for my fellow inductees that there was no shortage of hard work on their journeys, and that was true for me as well, but what about opportunity?” That, he went on to explain, is where UCI came into play.
“The unique opportunity and mentorship that I had at UCI as a student,” he said, “was instrumental in preparing me for a career on the leading edge of technology.” He thanked Professor Fadi Kurdahi for his class, Introduction to Digital Design, which Lenell admitted is when he first started to truly enjoy engineering. As his studies turned to digital systems and computer architecture, he joined Professor Nader Bagherzadeh’s research group focused on processors and VSLI design. According to Lenell, his experience in that lab group enabled him to go on and successfully lead chip development in industry.
“There’s a Chinese proverb that says, ‘teachers open the door; you enter by yourself,’” he said. “So thank you Professor Bagherzadeh and UCI for opening the door for me and providing not only the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree at UCI, but in doing so, providing a lifetime of opportunity.”
The featured speaker from ICS, Rosalva Gallardo Valencia, also spoke of her gratitude for the opportunities provided by UCI. “I am forever grateful to UCI,” said the Peru native. “Fourteen years ago, I was a software engineer in Peru, and my dream was to do my Ph.D. in computer science in the U.S.” While she said some scoffed at her goal, she still remembers the day — March 26, 2006 — when she received the acceptance letter from UCI, along with a fellowship covering tuition and expenses. “When I received that letter, I decided to pack my whole life in Peru into two suitcases, say goodbye to my whole family, and I started a journey in the U.S.”
She credited her adviser, Professor Susan Sim, with helping her make the transition. Furthermore, she recalled how during her third year, Sim applied for a $10,000 fellowship on her behalf. When she was awarded the fellowship, which helped not only academically but also emotionally — allowing her to buy a car and visit her family — Gallardo Valencia was so appreciative that she promised herself she would one day return the favor. “Last year,” she announced, “in 2019, with the help of Debi Brodbeck and Andre van der Hoek, we created the Rosalva Gallardo Valencia Graduate Award.” The award’s first recipient, software engineering Ph.D. student Adriana Meza Soria, was in attendance.
Also in attendance was Gallardo Valencia’s mother, sister and niece, who had flown in from Peru, and she expressed her never-ending gratitude for their support. Gallardo Valencia also talked about the nonprofit she had started, PeruSV.org, to close the technology and knowledge gap between Peru and Silicon Valley and to inspire Latino youth to pursue careers in technology.
“UCI not only gave me degrees, my masters and Ph.D., but it also gave me opportunities,” she concluded. “I really want to thank UCI and ICS, which transformed my life forever, helping me to amplify my voice to inspire other unrepresented communities and Latinos and women pursue careers in technology.”
As the evening drew to a close, Kashani welcomed to the stage the associate deans of engineering to bid farewell to Dean Washington, who recently accepted the position of the presidency at George Mason University. In leading the crowd in a toast, Associate Dean Ken Walsh talked about Washington’s remarkable legacy, including attracting a much more diverse faculty, showing that you can “be more inclusive and have better results.” As everyone lifted their glasses in honor of Dean Washington, Walsh wished him the “foresight to know where you’re going, the hindsight to remember where you’ve been, and the insight to not go too far.”
Washington then stepped up to the podium to say he couldn’t let everyone go without one more resounding Zot, Zot, Zot. “All rise and form the anteater,” he requested, before starting the countdown. “Three, two, one…”
Little did those in the room know that the event would be one of the last large gatherings of the 2019-2020 academic year, with the university soon moving to remote learning in the wake of COVID-19, but what better way to go out than with a resounding Zot, Zot, Zot!
More photos from the event can be found online.
— Shani Murray