What made you want to pursue robotics?
In high school, my days were built around football. My goal was to become a D1 football player and I was waking up at 4:00 every morning for practice. As a side hobby, I played a lot of video games and was always interested in hardware. I hosted lobbies for games, ran my own servers, and started wanting to know more about computer science, and so I took a few community college courses while I was in high school. By the time senior year came, I wasn’t receiving the football offers I had hoped for, but I kept pushing. Eventually, I realized that even if I did pursue football, I would have to give up my other passion. So I started looking into robotics programs, and the one at UC Santa Cruz looked good and wasn’t offered at any other UC campus. I really wanted the intersection of disciplines that it offered, and so I decided it was best for me.
How do you like the environment at Baskin Engineering?
Even when I was just taking classes here, there was a real sense of community. These are hard classes and they can be intimidating, but students here like to work together and power through it, not try to get an upper hand on each other. It’s an incredibly friendly community compared to many other places I’ve seen. I think what makes it all so much more special is how collaborative it is, because just from my classes I developed a network of friends that still study together and ask each other for help on our homework. There’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration here, but a lot of it is only possible if you put yourself out there; I wouldn’t have had these opportunities if I hadn’t stepped up and asked first. Not to mention the benefits it has for research—I’m an undergraduate and I work with about six graduate students, and my advisors are from two separate fields, so it’s important to branch out as much as you can. I'm always happy to help students get involved with research because I know how difficult the process can be to get started.
Have there been resources that have helped you?
I work in about five lab spaces right now, and I can go between them all of the time. I can get tools like soldering irons from one place and computers with specific software from another. My advisors run two different labs, DANSER, which is focused on systems-building, and ASSIST, which is for human-computer interaction with regard to case studies, and together they give me an in-depth, interdisciplinary approach to projects. Another factor that helped me a lot was the Multicultural Engineering Program, and I was really lucky to become involved with that my first year. The program director Lydia Zendejas has been amazing in creating a community and providing me with resources on how to borrow books or how to attend conferences and networking events. The program also has a room in Baskin Engineering with study spaces and snacks which has been so helpful, and that goes for other places too like Jack’s Lounge which is open to everyone.
What do you hope to do beyond academia?
I used to participate in judo a lot, but an injury made it so I haven’t been able to in a while. I’ve done five years of wrestling, three of Olympic lifting, four of football, two of jiu-jitsu, and two of judo. Like I said, sports was my life in high school, and I keep telling myself I’ll go back, but my schedule is so hectic with research and I want to graduate early. Besides sports, I’m a huge video game fanatic, but I also love going bike riding or just wandering around the Boardwalk. Actually, I like running now too, even though I hated it in high school. I can’t go running in the same place twice though—it has to be someplace new. I have to get lost, or else it isn’t fun for me. I just love getting lost in new places!