The Class of 2023: Dedicated to Their Dreams
June 1, 2023-- From June 16 to 18, thousands of graduates will be recognized in a series of commencement ceremonies for each undergraduate college, the Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs, Jacobs School of Engineering, Rady School of Management, School of Global Policy and Strategy and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They have reached for the stars and left the UC San Diego community better than they found it.
Read more about some of our stunning graduates here.
PhD in Bioengineering
|Kevin Rychel with his grandmother, who passed away this year|
Completing a PhD is a journey, but Kevin Rychel’s final year of his degree was more difficult than for most. Over the last year, Rychel suffered the loss of four important people in his life: his high school best friend, his grandmother, his father-in-law, and another close friend. Rychel attended his father-in-law’s funeral a week before his dissertation defense; after leaving his defense, he went straight to a memorial for his friend.
“No matter what you achieve, you don’t really grow up until you experience grief,” Rychel explained, adding that the support of his family, friends and labmates kept him going even through difficult times. “I wish that all the people I love could be here to celebrate with me; I dedicated my dissertation to the four people I lost this year.”
Rychel credits his first PhD mentor, Anand Sastry, with much of his success; Sastry developed the technology on which Rychel based his dissertation and provided countless hours of feedback and training. Rychel is now the leader of the Genome Analytics subgroup, a collaboration between the Systems Biology Research Group under UC San Diego bioengineering professor Bernard Palsson and the Center for Biosustainability at Denmark Technical University. There, he works with people from both universities on projects dedicated to enhancing science and fighting climate change and has traveled to Denmark twice to present his group’s research.
“I feel very proud because I achieved a lot here, including over a dozen publications, becoming a leader in my lab and traveling the world to discuss my research,” Rychel said. “I’m also very excited to move onto my next chapter where I can work more on applying what I’ve learned to more directly improve lives.”
Soon, Rychel will be starting a position as a Genomics Data Scientist at a biotech company, where he will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to track and analyze infectious diseases in order to protect public health. He also plans to get married this year.
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with a minor in Humanities
When he looks back at who he was when he started at UC San Diego, Yash Shah almost doesn’t recognize himself. As a recent immigrant to the U.S., the thought of approaching people, making friends and getting engaged in student life was scary. Now, Shah’s one of the first to go out of his way to get involved with student organizations, research, community service and any other opportunity that comes his way.
“My favorite memories at UC San Diego revolve around my association with Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society,” Shah explained, noting that he’s also enjoyed opportunities to research healthcare, human-computer interaction, and AI. “I’ve made lifelong friends, supported engineering outreach for underrepresented students and co-hosted a district conference for chapters from across Southern California.”
Beyond computer science, Shah also serves as a peer tutor for the Revelle College Humanities Program, which offers interdisciplinary courses in history, philosophy and literature. Shah credits the program and its director Antony Lyon with giving him the opportunity to grow into a better version of himself.
“It’s because of the Humanities Program that I decided to minor in Humanities, take classes outside of STEM, make sense of my place in human society and learn how I can give back as an informed individual,” Shah said.
Shah hopes to become an industry researcher in AI and will be attending Stanford University this fall for a master’s in computer science.
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
While Chris Ballecer’s journey to his engineering degree has been long, he knows it’s been worthwhile. Ballecer first began taking classes in the early 2010s; between working part-time, attending school full-time and dancing on a local hip-hop team, he was swamped. After retiring from dancing in 2016, he decided to focus on school.
“Lo and behold, my shift in focus paid off and I got straight A’s for the first time ever,” Ballecer said. In 2017, he joined a local laser manufacturing company as an intern before being hired on as a full-time electrical engineering technician in 2018, the same year he transferred part-time to UC San Diego. “Working full-time while going to UC San Diego part-time was extremely tough, but thankfully I had a strong support system who were understanding and supportive.”
Over the last few years, Ballecer has had quite a few highs and lows. He overcame the heavy stress caused by working full-time and studying engineering part-time and a transient group of friends who graduated while he was still completing his degree. Still, he also proposed to the “love of his life, best friend and most supportive person” in Dec. 2021 and got married a year later. Ballecer and his wife are now happily six months pregnant with an expected due date of his birthday in August.
Ballecer looks forward to continuing to learn and improve his skills as an electrical engineer and to ultimately create tech start-ups aimed at improving the lives of others. “I’ve lived and learned a lot throughout my academic journey,” Ballecer said. “I’m so excited to graduate. I’m ready.”
Jacobs School of Engineering