Undergrad Wins Fulbright Award, SOP Encourages Student Scholarship Applications

Alvara will work in robotics at the University of Toronto.May 25, 2017 - Samueli School undergraduate Alexander Nicholas Alvara has won a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award, which provides funding for research outside of the United States. Alvara, a triple major who is completing his degree in mechanical, aerospace and materials science engineering this year, will work next year at the University of Toronto. He then plans to attend graduate school to pursue a doctorate.

Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.

In Toronto, Alvara will collaborate with Professor Emeritus Andrew Goldenberg, a key figure in the field of robotics whose research encompasses mobile and industrial robots and robotic arms for a variety of industries, including space, nuclear plants, laboratory automation and image-guided surgery, as well as personal robots.

In his work with Goldenberg, Alvara will strive to develop better hardware and software to improve robots’ abilities to grasp and handle objects they cannot “see” for surgical applications.

“I was in disbelief,” says Alvara of learning that he had won the award. “I tried to make sure it wasn't April Fools’ Day still, and then afterwards, fact-checked the email address and contact info. When the realization set in, I was pretty shocked.”

He describes himself as “just a transfer student from a poor and rough neighborhood,” and says everyone can be successful with the right approach. “Anyone can do what I did, especially those who have come from a place of hardship and those who seem like underdogs. …You will always lose … if you don’t try or [if you] don’t apply, so apply to them all and do your best,” he says.

Alvara is grateful for the help of his adviser, Sharnnia Artis, assistant dean for access and inclusion. “I want to make sure you know how much you have contributed to this and that I could not have done it without your guidance, time and dedication to each step of the process,” he wrote in an email to Artis. “You have made this a possibility for me.”

“Throughout Alexander’s time at UCI, I have witnessed scholarship as being one of his utmost important criteria,” Artis says. “In addition to being a triple major, he has research experience at UCI, Cornell, UCLA and University of Arizona, and is a peer mentor who serves as a great resource for students in and outside of the classroom.

“With Alexander’s research experience ranging from biomedical devices to robotics and nanostructures, this will be a great opportunity for him to expand internationally,” Artis adds.

The Fulbright Program, which aims to increase mutual understanding between the United States and other countries, counts a host of distinguished alumni, including those who have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, MacArthur Fellows and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients.

Two other Samueli School students recently received honorable mentions in prestigious scholarship competitions. Jordan Edmunds, an electrical engineering and biological sciences major, received honorable mention for the Barry M. Goldwater scholarship, while chemical engineering undergraduate Shiaki Minami got honorable mention for the National Science Foundation scholarship. The UCI Office of Scholarship Opportunities, which advises candidates applying for 15 competitive national or international merit scholarships including the Fulbright, Goldwater and NSF scholarships, encourages students to apply. For more information or to make an appointment for scholarship advising, visit the SOP website.

- Anna Lynn Spitzer