Gordon Scholars Learn from Experience
San Diego, Calif., June 11, 2013 -- Integrity. Honesty. Teamwork. And smartphones. These are a few of the essential leadership tools engineering students and young engineering professionals need to become successful entrepreneurs in the new economy, said Ronald Reedy, co-founder of Peregrine Semiconductor at a recent Gordon Engineering Leadership forum for students, staff and alumni of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Organized by the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center, the forum is one of many opportunities students have to learn from the experience of their predecessors.
|Gordon Scholars participate in a leadership forum with alumnus Ronald Reedy, co-founder of Peregrine Semiconductor. Photo courtesy of Gordon Engineering Leadership Center.
The Gordon Center at the University of California, San Diego is supported by the Bernard and Sophia Gordon Foundation, which supports engineering leadership training and education in order to create future leaders in technology. About 30 students are selected each year to the program as Gordon Scholars or Fellows. Reedy was joined during a question and answer session by Rakesh Kumar, President and CEO of Technology Connexions. Reedy earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and applied physics from UC San Diego in 1984. Triton, the UCSD alumni magazine, profiled Reedy’s path from inventor to successful entrepreneur in a feature article in the spring 2013 issue. The event addressed the value of entrepreneurship and the importance of leadership, particularly in today’s global market. Education, leadership skills and teamwork were covered – all values Reedy acknowledged as significant tools in taking on an engineering leadership role.
Many students viewed Reedy’s presentation as another perk of being a Gordon Scholar.
“They bring in these top players from their industry and they don’t talk down to you,” said Kristoffer Wilkerson, a second-year electrical engineering student and Gordon Scholar. “They really engage you in conversation and relate their knowledge and experience to what you want to learn. I really loved Ron because he has a more down-to-earth feeling than what you’d expect from a top CEO.”
This is precisely what Gordon Center Executive Director, Ebonée Williams, asks speakers to do. “I ask speakers to not just talk about their achievements, we can look those up,” said Williams. “But what are the values that you hold close? What are the memorable failures that you had to grow from to be where you are today? What were the most challenging parts of your journey? If you could speak to a younger version of yourself what would you say?” Finding speakers who can do this well and really connect with the “brilliant and enthusiastic” students of the Gordon Center and Jacobs School of Engineering can be a challenge, Williams said. Reedy is a pro.
Throughout his presentation and discussion, Reedy addressed the challenges students faced but also the quality of talent that was present in the room. He encouraged students to maintain their integrity and honesty – something that exceptional entrepreneurship builds upon.
“Nothing of any value can ever be built on anything but the truth,” Reedy said. “If you can’t stare at the person in the mirror and tell yourself you’re fundamentally to your core honest, then don’t be an entrepreneur because you’re going to fail.”
“Everybody is a good winner,” he continued. “It’s losing, making a mistake, recovering from adversity. That tests this limit of honesty and character. That’s the strange attractor of like-minded people, and they will stay together and see it through when you need it the most.”
For the next generation – the many budding entrepreneurs in the room, Reedy believes they already have the necessary tool to be successful leaders of tomorrow: the smartphone.
“You and your generation are in a world literally like no other before and here’s why,” he said. “Historical experience of humankind has been who controls the information. Today, every one of you has access to all the information man has ever created in your hand for 50 bucks a month. The trait that you need to work on is realizing that you are in the information process. What you do with this information is your challenge.”
Many students, such as Wilkerson, apply to become Gordon Scholars because they believe that presentations like Reedy’s are invaluable.
“They really have the resources that I want to be engaged with to learn those leadership qualities and characteristics, to go to the different types of workshops they provide for us for free,” said Wilkerson, who knew from a young age that he wanted to become an entrepreneur. “These are workshops that you’d normally pay thousands of dollars to go to. Their information is priceless. You wouldn’t get that type of information on the web. Even though [Ron] said that you have all the information in the world right in your smartphone. You don’t have that one-on-one or more intimate type of communication.”
|Ronald Reedy talks entrepreneurship with Gordon Scholars at a recent leadership forum. Photo courtesy of Gordon Engineering Leadership Center.
Wilkerson is currently on a five-year plan and is pursuing a pre-med track in addition to his electrical engineering degree. He hopes that being pre-med will help him build up his experience in patient care and within the healthcare system. Eventually, he hopes to combine his engineering background with his medical experience within the framework of the biotech industry.
“Going through this program will help me build the leadership skills that I need to become a great leader in both the medical and engineering fields,” said Wilkerson. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to combine both fields in the future, maybe 20 years down the line.”
Other students like Roshni Chandrashekhar, a graduate student with a focus in computer science, became a Gordon Scholar in order to meet new people.
“I’ve been able to meet different people with many different perspectives, and it wouldn’t have been something I’d have been able to experience if I’d just been sitting in a lab all day,” said Chandrashekhar. “It’s a good way to get out, meet new people and develop different perspectives.”
Engineering students can apply to be Gordon Scholars at the undergraduate, graduate or professional level and must go through a rigorous application process including submitting an essay and application demonstrating exceptional leadership qualities, as well as an interview.
Matthew Borger, a fourth-year undergraduate, was sponsored by one of his professors who encouraged him to apply to the Gordon Center. The application process is based on interest, experience and leadership among others, according to Borger, and is taken on a case-by-case basis. For the computer engineering student, the program has been significant in terms of the people he has had access to.
“I’m trying to get a project together and see where I can go with that,” said Borger, who is interested in education technology and the possibility of creating a start-up company in that field. “It’s encouraging to hear from other people who’ve done this already.”
At the start of his keynote speech, Reedy said entrepreneurs are the “biggest game-changers in all of history.” As future entrepreneurs, technological leaders, managers and global innovators, students in the Gordon Center program will be equipped to leave their own indelible mark on generations to come.
By Coral Lin
Jacobs School of Engineering