The $5000 fellowship is given annually to a continuing graduate student who has a record of notable academic achievements and demonstrates leadership in graduate research and Jacobs School activities. The university named the leadership award to honor retired venture capitalist Buzz Woolley's contributions to UCSD's graduate fellowship program.
"In my life, giving and being involved in the community has aided in a lot of ways, so we were happy to help out with these fellowships," says Buzz Woolley, who attended the Nov. 7 ceremony with his wife, UCSD general counsel Ann Parode. "All we request is that -- when you students get into a job -- you do something to help out. Math and science education is so weak in this country, and the people in this room have the capability to ease that problem."
Electrical engineering students have now won the Woolley Fellowship two years in a row. Previous winner Adam Conway and this year's recipient share something else in common: both are competitive swimmers. Rob Saperstein is a two-time NCAA Water Polo Academic All-American.
He grew up near Palo Alto, CA, the son of two scientists. Saperstein completed his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at Princeton University in 2001, and chose UCSD for its research reputation. "I really got interested in optics as a junior at Princeton," says Saperstein, who is now married to wife Julia. "Since then I have focused on photonics, and UCSD is a world-class institution in this arena."
At the ceremony, ECE chair Paul Yu singled out Saperstein for advising and mentoring younger grad students, undergraduates, middle and high school students. The graduate student developed a nine-month research project for an undergraduate to investigate how to get around wavelength-dependent changes in light polarization as a beam reflects off of a short length of modified optical fiber-known as a fiber Bragg grating-used in optical telecommunications.
Saperstein is also an advisor to the UCSD Preuss School's Botball robotics club. He helps students in grades 7 through 10 build autonomous robots using Lego motors, sensors and processors. They compete locally and regionally in organized Botball competitions. "I have especially enjoyed working with everyone at the Preuss School," says Saperstein. "The students come from families where neither parent has gone to college, so the mentoring and guidance can really demonstrate the potential of and motivate these students to go on to college -- and hopefully to UCSD."
Saperstein admits to having undergone an evolution in his leadership skills since arriving at UCSD, as he gradually took on greater responsibilities in the lab, in his own research, even on the department's softball team. "Grad school has been more broadly demanding than undergrad," he says, half-jokingly pointing to a drawing of Sisyphus rolling his boulder up a hill. "You have to develop survival skills such as time prioritization for personal and project management, and learning how to interact with others through collaboration, instruction and communication. Those are the basics of leadership."
Looking to the future, Saperstein says he wants to explore NSF's new Research Experiences for Teachers program, which could fund K-12 and community college teachers coming to UCSD and hopefully bring technologies from the Jacobs School back to their classrooms and clubs. He also has to finish his dissertation on "information processing with longitudinal spectral decomposition," which he hopes to finish within 18 months.