A new fellowship opportunity just opened up in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), and applications are now being accepted. The “Rosalva Gallardo Valencia Graduate Award in ICS” fulfills a wish made years ago by a Ph.D. student after a tremendous weight was lifted from her shoulders through a $10,000 gift.
Rosalva Gallardo Valencia, a native of Peru, first came to UCI in 2006 after receiving a fellowship. She left her job as a software engineer in Lima to pursue her Ph.D.in ICS. “For the first three years, I didn’t have a car,” she says, recalling how it took her two hours by bus to get to Ikea — less than 10 miles from campus — to buy items for her apartment. “And with all the stress of working on my Ph.D., I really wanted see my family, but that was something I just couldn’t afford.”
As Gallardo Valencia worked fervently on her candidacy exam during her third year of studies and served as a teaching assistant for 100 students, her advisor, Informatics Professor Susan Sim, learned about the Miguel Velez fellowship for Latin American graduate students. “She saw my struggles financially and applied on my behalf,” says Gallardo Valencia, who knew nothing about the fellowship application. When Sim showed her the acceptance letter, she could hardly believe she had been awarded $10,000. “So do I use this for tuition or books,” she asked, “or to attend a conference?” She was shocked to learn there were no restrictions on the funding.
“The first thing I did was buy a car and also a ticket to go back home to see my family,” says Gallardo Valencia. While she did use some of the funds to buy books and attend conferences, she says the initial purchases were just as important to her academics. “It took a huge weight off my shoulders and had such an impact on my well-being.” Everything — from running errands to grocery shopping — became so much easier with a car that she had more time and energy for her studies. Similarly, she found she could better focus on her work after taking a break to visit her family. “It’s good to have a balance, but sometimes you don’t have the resources to have that balance.”
The fellowship had such a positive influence on her life as a Ph.D. student, both physically and emotionally, that she vowed to one day return the favor. “I don’t know when or how,” she recalls telling herself, “but someday, I want to offer a fellowship to help other students.”
Today, Gallardo Valencia is a data analytics program manager for Partner Developer Relations at Google. Through Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, she returned to Peru a few years ago to collaborate with Laboratoria, an organization that trains low-income Latin American women as front-end developers and UX designers.
Gallardo Valencia is also a co-founder of the Network of Professional Peruvians in Science and Technology in Silicon Valley (PeruSV.org), a group of Peruvian tech professionals committed to closing the technology and innovation gap in Peru. PeruSV is a co-organizer of Techsuyo, an annual conference for Peruvians in the U.S. working on science, technology and innovation. After holding conferences at Stanford and MIT, Techsuyo held its first conference in Peru earlier this year, with 300 attendees from industry and 700 students. “It was amazing to be able to reach out to that many students,” she says, noting that the goal was to inspire those in high school and college to pursue careers in STEM.
“When I tell my co-workers and friends about these events through Techsuyo and PeruSV, they sometimes ask how I find these opportunities, and I tell them, ‘I don’t find opportunities —I create them!” So it was only a matter of time before Gallardo Valencia fulfilled her dream of creating a fellowship for ICS graduate students.
“Studying at UCI opened so many doors for me,” she says. “The great education that I received enabled me to work at Intel and now at Google, and because of that, I am in a position to share my story, to amplify my voice and to share with other Latinos that they too can dream about doing similar things.” Gallardo Valencia is a great role model in an industry with few women and even fewer Latinos. In 2018, Hispanic women represented only 2% of the computing workforce, which is why she is proud to celebrate her Latin American heritage and encourage others to follow their dreams.
She is excited to review the applications for her new $10,000 award, which is open to all Ph.D. students in ICS, with a preference for those studying software engineering. “I will be involved in the selection process, and I would also like to be involved as a mentor,” she says.
This desire to help others is something she learned from her parents. “My family is very generous and likes to give back to the community,” she explains. “You don’t need to have a lot to give. You just need the determination to give. And I have seen that my whole life through my family.”
- a one-to-two-page essay that describes your main research, your career goals and how the award would contribute to your life as a Ph.D. student;
- your CV or resume; and
- one letter of recommendation from your faculty advisor.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the applications and selecting one,” says Gallardo Valencia. “I really hope that this will make a difference in someone’s life.”
— Shani Murray