IEEE Presidents’ Scholarship Winners: Where Are They Now?

Recipients have since launched startups and landed jobs at high-tech companies

16 July 2015

The first IEEE Presidents' Scholarship was awarded in 1999 to a student finalist at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, also known as Intel ISEF. Since then, 17 students have received the award, which is presented annually to a deserving high school student for “outstanding achievement in creating a project that demonstrates an understanding of electrical engineering, electronics engineering, computer science, or other IEEE field of interest.”

The program is funded by the IEEE Foundation’s IEEE Presidents' Scholarship Fund and is administered by the IEEE Educational Activities Board. The winning student receives a US $10,000 scholarship over four years of study, IEEE student and student society memberships, a framed certificate, and an engraved plaque. Several recipients have gone on to do remarkable things in the field of engineering and others are in the process of completing their engineering degrees. Here’s an update on what some are up to today.

  • 1999: Michael S. Belshaw for “Robotic Revolution”

    Belshaw was the first recipient of the scholarship, and received it for constructing a computer-actuated robotic arm against which individuals can play Tic-Tac-Toe with game pieces. When he heard his name announced as the winner before nearly 1,500 attendees, he said he remembers “floating up to the stage, completely overwhelmed.”

    Belshaw is working in the field of robotic vision as a software developer at Epson Canada, in Markham, Ontario, which makes printers, scanners, and other professional imaging products. When looking back on how the award has impacted his life, he said: “Winning the award really opened up my eyes to the world of possibilities before me.” He received his bachelor's in computer engineering in 2004 and his master’s in computer engineering and computer vision in 2008 both from Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

  • 2004: Elena Leah Glassman for “Brain-Computer Interface for the Muscularly Disabled”

    Glassman was awarded the scholarship for developing a brain-computer interface to help those with paralysis, and nerve and muscle disorders. She realized those who are unable to use their muscles cannot work a computer and was inspired by a video of a man using brain waves to control arm movements with his thoughts through implanted electrodes. She created an algorithm that interprets electroencephalography signals, or electrical activity of the brain along the scalp, with 90 percent accuracy. She used herself as a test subject to improve the code.Glassman is now pursuing her Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT in the User Interface Design Group within the school’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. She also serves as president of MIT-MEET (Middle East Education through Technology). She received her bachelor's in electrical engineering in 2008 and her master’s in electrical engineering and computer science in 2010 both from MIT.

  • 2005: Adam Daniel Sidman for “Camera Stablization: Take 2”

    Developing a stabilization device for a handheld motion picture camera earned Sidman the scholarship. As a high school student, he was involved in both filmmaking and engineering, and used the device he built to create feature films and documentaries. “I noticed that the two common camera stabilization devices are a strain for the operator, difficult to maneuver, and are pretty cost prohibitive,” he said. His device was portable, lightweight, and gave the operator more control. He received his bachelor's in mechanical engineering and visual and environmental studies from Harvard in 2010.

    Sidman is president of U.S. production for Baselevs Group, a media company founded by Hollywood director and producer Timur Bekmambetov, based in Moscow. Sidman has produced television shows for Spike TV, the Discovery Channel, A&E, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and SyFy.

  • 2006: Brandon Lee Reavis for “3-D Silhouette Laser Scanning”

    Reavis was awarded the scholarship for developing a device that scans an object and transfers it onto a computer as a 3-D image. The machine can be used for digitizing items such as sculptures and archeological finds. Upon hearing his name announced, he remembers feeling “a great sense of accomplishment and surprise. It was a bit surreal too.” He received his bachelor's in computer engineering from the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, in 2013.

    Reavis cofounded and is the developer of Natural Atlas, a community-driven initiative to build the most reliable, up-to-date map of the outdoors and can be accessed and edited by anyone. Asked about how the award impacted his life, he said: “It definitely further motivated me to work on bigger and better things.”

  • 2007: George F. Hotz for “I Want a Holodek”

    Developing a device that can create an optical illusion in 3-D was the reason Hotz was awarded the scholarship. As a high school student, he was intrigued by the hologram of Princess Leia projected in the first Star Wars movie and the optical tricks used in rides at Walt Disney World. He noticed, however, that most were in 2-D, which challenged him to create an optical illusion in 3-D. It took him more than a year to fine-tune his project. He credited “the Internet and his father with providing the inspiration to take on projects such as this one.”

    Hotz attended Carnegie Mellon University in 2013 and 2014. He is currently directing his focus to his startup Reactions, a photo-sharing application service. In 2014, he won the $150,000 Google "Pwnium 4" security competition and is famous for being the first to unlock the iPhone.

  • 2008: Hari Rallapalli for “Low-Cost Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscopy”

    Rallapalli was awarded the scholarship for developing a low-cost, total internal reflection fluorescence microscope for classrooms. Instead of asking his school to purchase the $300,000 microscope that it could not afford, he set out to create one himself to help students see random movements of particles suspended in a liquid or gas. He built it for under $1,000 and is designed to reflect light internally in the prism and is captured by an extremely sensitive charge-coupled-device camera. The resulting digital image can be viewed on a TV or computer screen and then recorded and analyzed.

    Rallapalli received his bachelor's in biomedical engineering from the University of California, Davis, in 2014, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical sciences at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, in New York City. He serves as vice president of outreach for the NYU Biotechnology Association.

  • 2009: Rahul Kumar Pandey for “A Microwave Metamaterial Lens With Negative Index of Refraction”

    Developing a three-dimensional lens array with a negative index of refraction was the reason Pandey was awarded the scholarship. His research led him to put forward a new theory: Metamaterials could bend light waves around a region and emerge on the other side as though the waves went through empty space, in effect cloaking an object to make it invisible.

    Pandey is currently a software engineer at Pinterest. He developed Deebrief, which allows for insightful comments and interesting questions to display in a Youtube video. He received his bachelor’s in computer science in 2013 and his master's in computer science in 2014, both from Stanford.

  • 2010: James Popper for “CookerSmart”

    Popper was awarded the scholarship for developing a fire detection device designed for the kitchen, which he created after an elderly family friend survived a kitchen fire. Many people do not install fire alarms in their kitchens due to the fact that they are set off by cooking fumes, high heat, and steam. His product reacts not to smoke but to an actual fire by identifying the infrared flicker of a flame, and then analyzing its frequency bands.  

    Popper is currently the managing director of his own business, Sinclair Fire, which manufactures smart fire protection products that save lives and reduce property damage. The company’s primary innovation is the Sinclair Kitchen Fire Detector, based on his CookerSmart project, which is an infrared fire detection device designed to respond to fires rapidly and without false alarms. He is studying manufacturing engineering at Trinity College, in Hartford, Conn.

  • 2012: Alexandru Ionut Budisteanu for “Human Computer Interface: Using Artificial Intelligence to Help Blind People to See With Their Tongue”

    Developing a device that enables blind people to see images using their tongues won Budisteanu the scholarship. He was inspired by his uncle who was blind. Through his research, Budisteanu learned that the same neurons that are used to process taste are also used for sight. This overlap of brain function enables blind people to learn “images” from the tongue faster than with their fingers. He designed his system so that users would receive low-power electrical pulses on their tongues that represented images and even spatial context. After receiving the award, he said, “Winning gave me strength to continue pursuing my studies and my passion for computers and electronics.”

    Budisteanu is busy with his startup VisionBot, an assembly machine company that help makers and electrical engineers affordably turn electronic prototypes into marketable products. He is also studying computer science at the University of Bucharest, in Romania. In 2013, he was named one of TIME magazine's most influential teens and won the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award at the 2013 Intel ISEF with his low-cost, self-driving car.

  • 2014: George Morgan for “A Multi-Architectural Approach to the Development of Embedded Software”

    Morgan was awarded the scholarship for developing a computer chip and operating system using object-oriented design patterns at a low level to make both hardware and software development more easily accessible to the public. Upon receiving the award, he remembers feeling “how an artist must feel when someone understands the meaning behind their work...Sparks fly and true passion is liberated. It’s a mysterious, eccentric, and inexplicably pleasant feeling and I felt it that night."

    Morgan runs his own tech startup, Flipper, now at the age of 18. Through his company, he intends to tackle the complex process of designing a computer, which he says challenges traditional thinking. He graduated in 2015 from Clovis North High School, in Fresno, Calif. He will begin studying computer engineering this year at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York.

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