Alumni Stories

To give you a better idea of some of the roads Caltech alumni choose to travel, we reconnected with some recent graduates. Here is what they said about what they've been doing with their Tech education.

Ben Flora
New York, NY
B.S. Computer Science nad Business, 2010
Current Position: Software Developer, Barclays Capital
"I work on developing a real time trading system for an investment bank. This allows Barclays traders to connect to electric exchanges. This involves everything from opening connections to the exchanges to showing trades on a user interface."

What made you choose Caltech?
"I chose Caltech because of the close knit community of the students and the freedom that students were given. The housing system was also a draw for me because it gave me the ability to meet people with similar tastes. Another thing is the way faculty and administration listens to students. Caltech showed that undergrads were respected and not just pushed away. One example of that was I got the chance to sit on the undergraduate admissions committee. Caltech is the only school where undergrads have a direct say in who is admitted. This really shows the respect students get."
Do you have a favorite Caltech tradition or prank?
"One of my favorite traditions was Ditch Day. Ditch Day was like Christmas in May. You would get woken up early in the morning to have elaborate activites set up all day. Spending a day with your friends running around campus doing things you would normally not have time to do. A few examples are playing golf with giant clubs (and inflatable balls) around campus. Playing giant tic tac toe with water balloons and 3 man sling shots. Playing real life pac man using the entire campus as the "screen". Some of my fondest memories happened on Ditch Day."
Kamalah Chang
Houston, Texas
B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 2005
Current Position: Mechanical Design Engineer, Schlumberger
"I work as a design engineer at an Oilfield Services Company. I love my job because I am involved in every aspect of the project. I get to come up with the design; get all of the parts ordered; and when they come in, I get to put everything together."

What was your favorite class at Caltech?
"My favorite class was ME 71: Introduction to Mechanical Design. It was the first time I got to play with mills, lathes, and band saws. The lessons I learned in that class, I still use in my job today."
What would you like to share about Caltech?
"The best part of Caltech is the people. The students here are the most amazing group of people I have met. Everyone is highly intelligent and willing to challenge themselves. This combination resulted in many interesting debates, awesome pranks, and fantastic parties."
Wei Lien Dang
Cambridge, MA
B.S. Applied Physics, 2005
Current Grad School: Student, Harvard Law School
"People around the law school are always surprised when I tell them I did physics as an undergrad. But the number of scientists-turned-lawyers is growing. I am interested in "technology" transfer" how to turn early-stage research breakthroughs in the lab into successful commercial projects. How does the law support innovation and what kind of partnerships between the business world and universities can support technology development? These are the sorts of questions I like to think about."

What type of research experience did you participate in at Caltech?
"I did SURF twice, once at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and once on campus. I worked on a project to integrate "carbon nanotubes," tiny tube-shaped structures made of carbon, into various microelectric devices. You're really given a lot of responsibility as a SURF student and professors and staff make you feel like a part of their research teams. I enjoyed my project so much that I continued doing research during the school year and got to publish a paper."

What would you like to share about Caltech?
"Caltech is a special place. It's a place that will give you a lot of freedom to explore your academic and research interests. This is both exciting and challenging at the same time but if you are ready to embrace that type of experience, then Caltech is the place for you."
Csilla Felsen
Encinitas, CA
B.S. Biology and English, 2008
Current Medical School: Student, UCSD School of Medicine
"I am a second year medical student at UCSD and I love it! I am constantly amazed by, and grateful for, the stories that my patients share and I am thankful that my training is equipping me to make a positive difference in their lives. Caltech's rigorous core curriculum, amazing shadowing opportunities, and wonderful advising support were all integral in prepping me for the challenges of medical school."
How would you describe the Caltech community?
"The magic of the Caltech community really comes forward when Nobel Prize winners turn to classrooms full of students and genuinely ask for their opinions on new discoveries, when professors hold office hours at 10 pm (in their pajamas!), when faculty band together to make students breakfast during final weeks, ...these are just a few examples of the daily events that make Caltech what it is."

Your favorite class at Caltech?
"I enjoyed a Social Neuroscience course taught by Ralph Adolphs so much that I joined his lab immediately after taking the course. He described scientific explanations for why people behave the way we do in social settings and I was fascinated that our interpersonal interactions can be so readily analyzed through rigorous biological experimentation. For the first time, I found a legitimate between my dueling interests in humanities and biology."
Gustavo Olm
Oceanside, CA
B.S. Engineering & Applied Science and Economics, 2006
Current Position: Nuclear Plant Operator, SoCal Edison
"Some people have their careers chosen long before they graduate. Others, such as myself, discovered that Caltech prepares us for all challenges that lie ahead. I'm currently an operator at the San Onofre nuclear plant. I use knowledge of fluids, chemistry, physics, and thermo everyday. Caltech's core classes give a solid background for inter-disciplinary work and research."

Do you have a favorite Caltech tradition or prank?
"My favorite prank would be one I've only heard about, students dismantled a professor's car and then reassembled it atop his building. That's pretty impressive! There are some other traditions I think are pretty neat as well. Watching pumpkins shatter after being injected with liquid nitrogen and dropped from the seven-story Millikan Library on Halloween is really cool!"
Your favorite professor at Caltech?
"How about stats with Professor Gary Lorden? He's an amazing lecturer, and how cool is it that the TV show Numb3ers turns to him for mathematical consulting? I also really enjoyed my political science classes (such as budgetary politics) with Professor Rod Kiewiet. I suspect he moonlights as a stand-up comedian."
Alex Shvartser
New York, NY
B.S. Electrical Engineering, 2006
Current Position: Analyst, BlackRock
"I work in the financial services sector, for an asset management company. My work involves research and development of financial models. These models are used to determine the price of various financial securities, and to help quantify the risk associated with buying or selling such securities."
How would you describe the Caltech community?
"People here are very dynamic, with varied interests, and while everyone does have a strong passion for math and science, you'll also find people who are interested in drama, literature, fencing, water polo, cooking, and getting off campus to explore the L.A. nightlife. Teamwork plays a big role in managing Caltech academics successfully. The undergraduate community is just that, a community. It's small enough that you feel like you're part of something, and large enough that there is a wide representation of various viewpoints and interests."

What would you like to share about Caltech?
"While at Caltech, I was able to interact with some amazing professors and students. I got to learn quantum mechanics, write embedded software to control a robot, fire up an electron microscope in a clean room, study contemporary British fiction with one of the judges of the Man-Booker Prize, study abroad in London, learn to tell the difference between wine aged in French versus American oak barrels, and solve partial differential equations. A lot of partial differential equations. I learned about the world around me, and a lot about myself. I learned to learn. I learned to solve problems."
Amy C. Barr, Ph.D
Boulder, CO
B.S. Planetary Science, 2000
Current Position: Senior Research Scientist, Southwest Research Institute
"I work on the formation and interior evolution of planetary satellites. My research meshes astrophysics, geophysics, materials science, and applied math."
What made you choose to attend Caltech?
"My dad took me on a tour of Caltech when I was in eighth grade. I saw that they allowed students to draw on the walls of the dorms, and I decided I had to go there. It was only a few months later that I learned it was a science school (which was OK by me) and, as my mom put it, "for really smart people." I decided that I better become a "really smart person" in the next four years if I was going to get admitted, apparently, it worked!"
"Many years later, when I stepped foot on campus for Prefrosh Weekend, I felt like I had finally come home, and that everyone understood me. The first dinner I attended in the dining hall was one of the most amazing and warm social experiences I have ever had. That helped me make the final decision to attend Caltech."
What type of research experience did you participate in at Caltech?
"I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to do a SURF project the summer after my freshman year with Dave Stevenson in the GPS Division. He set me to work on a classical problem in planetary science related to the different evolutionary pathways of two of Jupiter's large icy satellites. I am proud to say that I have just submitted a publication to Nature Geoscience that is an extension of my freshman SURF project." (Finally, after 12 years, some closure!)
Haomiao Huang
Berkeley, CA
B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 2005
Current Graduate School: Student, Stanford
"Officially, I'm building models of the way humans process and understand complex patterns of aircraft in order to design advanced, intuitive automation tools for controlling groups of autonomous aircraft or improving air traffic control. In reality, I fly a fleet of robot quadrotor helicopters and make them do cool tricks (go look up STARMAC on youtube)."
What made you choose to attend Caltech?
"The short answer? Because when I was a kid my dad bought me a subscription to the magazine Popular Science, and there were all these articles about how scientists at JPL and Caltech were building cool robots and sending up all these probes into space. Later in life, I'm sure there was stuff about student/faculty rations and classes and things like that, but the Popular Science articles were the real reason."

Do you have a favorite Caltech tradition or prank?
"Ditch Day is by far the most awesome tradition ever. The stacks can get amazingly complicated and clever. A few guys I knew built a full-sized working replica of the command room of a nuclear attack submarine, and the stack involved conducting a sub attack while the seniors sat at the far end on the computer simulating an opponent."