8 UC Berkeley graduate students named 2019 Siebel Scholars

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Eight UC Berkeley graduate students, out of the 96 international recipients, were named 2019 Siebel Scholars on Sept. 13.

Campus graduate students Andrew Bremer, Marc Steven Chooljian, Phillip Kang, Stacey Lee, Nicole Anne Repina, Wojciech Osowiecki, David Wang and Samantha Wathugala will be awarded $35,000 each and join a network of more than 1,300 distinguished scholars, according to a Siebel Scholars press release issued Sept. 13.

The Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation established the Siebel Scholars program in 2000 to recognize distinguished graduate students in bioengineering, computer science, energy science and business. The Siebel Scholars program, according to the program’s website, strives to bring together different perspectives on global issues and ideas.

“It’s wonderful to be part of a community of intelligent, curious people,” said Repina, a doctoral candidate in the joint UC Berkeley-UCSF bioengineering program.

While doing previous biology research, Repina realized how important it was to develop new techniques to study biology, and she wanted to learn more engineering. Repina said she studies how light can control protein signaling in stem cells, causing them to differentiate and grow. Her research can be applied in the areas of human development and brain function.

Students are nominated by the deans of their respective schools based on academic performance and leadership, according to the Siebel Scholars program website. The schools affiliated with the program include UC San Diego, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago, as well as international schools such as Tsinghua University in China, the University of Tokyo, and Politecnico di Torino in Italy.

“What makes this so special is that it awards students in different areas and recognizes that people’s work are adjacent to each other in the real world,” said Kang, a campus doctoral candidate in the same program as Repina.

Kang also studies stem cells, but focuses on how a cell’s proteins and genes respond to factors in its mechanical environment, such as pressure and topography. He said his chemical engineering background influenced his academic career by helping him understand things from a physical rather than a biological perspective.

Wang, a master’s student in the campus department of electrical engineering and computer science, or EECS, said receiving the award was a “huge honor,” given the qualifications of the other candidates.

“It’s more than just the monetary award — it’s being a part of a community of scholars, many of whom are from top universities around the world,” Wang said.

At UC Berkeley’s Laboratory for Automation Science and Engineering, Wang is looking into applying deep learning to build better driving simulations. Wang has also published work on using deep learning to assess soil conditions for more efficient irrigation techniques.

“I’m thrilled, David really deserves (the award) and he’s passionate about research,” said campus professor Ken Goldberg, who directs the lab. “He’s always coming up with ideas. He implements things very quickly.”

Osowiecki, a campus doctoral candidate in chemistry, credits his involvement in the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative and the “Cleantech to Market” class at the Haas School of Business as important influences in teaching him about how energy is interdisciplinary. His work centers on a catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide into fuel and potentially help with climate change.

“It’s really cool to think that there are people here who believe in me, and it encourages me to continue pursuing what I do,” said Wathugala, a master’s student in EECS.

Contact Andreana Chou at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AndreanaChou.

A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Samantha Wathugala’s name.