When Rosalva Gallardo Valencia was awarded the Miguel Velez fellowship for Latin American graduate students in 2009, she became a link in a chain that, a decade later, would extend to Adriana Meza Soria, currently a doctoral student in software engineering at UCI. The significance of this chain was highlighted at the 2020 Hall of Fame Celebration for the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), when Gallardo Valencia, a 2020 Hall of Fame inductee and featured speaker at the event, recalled receiving the award so many years ago.
A Journey from Peru to UCI to Google
Today, Gallardo Valencia is a data analytics program manager for Partner Developer Relations at Google and co-founder of the Network of Professional Peruvians in Science and Technology in Silicon Valley (PeruSV.org). She has led a Google.org collaboration with Laboratoria, an organization that trains low-income Latin American women as front-end developers and UX designers. Before joining Google, Gallardo Valencia was an engineering manager at Intel.
“I was happily surprised when I received the news that I was being inducted into the ICS Hall of Fame,” she says, noting that she was also honored to speak at the event. “The Hall of Fame Celebration in February was magical for me for many reasons,” she adds. “It was so special for me to share this moment with the people who supported me the most during my UCI journey and also people who now I support at UCI.”
As she stood at the podium at the celebration, held at the Discovery Cube Orange County, she looked into a crowd that included her mother, sister and niece, who had travelled from Peru, and her past Ph.D. adviser, who had travelled from Canada. She spoke of her own journey from working as a software engineer in Peru to studying at UCI. English was not her native language, and although she had received a scholarship to cover her tuition and expenses, money was tight. She talked about how it would take three hours on three different buses just to get from UCI to Ikea; a trip to visit her family in Peru was unthinkable. Yet she persevered.
“It was thanks to the support of my amazing adviser, Susan Sim, [who] offered all the support I needed.” Sim not only helped Gallardo Valencia with her English — they ended up publishing two books together — but Sim also applied for the Miguel Velez fellowship on her student’s behalf. “That was actually a surprise for me,” admits Gallardo Valencia, who explained that the $10,000 fellowship helped in so many ways, allowing her to buy a car as well as a plane ticket to Peru.
“I made a promise to myself that someday,” she told the crowd, “I would return that favor and I would create my own award or scholarship.” She then announced that, with the help of Debi Brodbeck and Andre van der Hoek, she had fulfilled her promise in 2019 with the Rosalva Gallardo Valencia Graduate Award. The award’s first recipient, Adriana Meza Soria, was sitting in the audience.
“Adriana, I am so proud of the work that you are doing,” said Gallardo Valencia. “Your research is very promising, and also it’s so great all the amazing work you are doing for underrepresented communities. I cannot wait to see all the results of your hard work.”
Plans to Continue Giving Back
Meza Soria’s research focuses on voice-based knowledge capture and delivery in design meetings. Recently, she has been working with developers to test one of her latest creations, KNOCAP — a web whiteboard application that lets developers sketch and save important bits of design conversations, which they can then access at future design meetings. Inspired by Gallardo Valencia, Meza Soria also wants to share her research in software engineering with Mexican institutions. She has started this journey by giving seminar talks, principally at schools in her hometown, Tijuana, Mexico. Meza Soria has received a lot of support for her efforts to give back to underrepresented communities from UCI’s Mexico Graduate Research Education Program (MGREP), where she has volunteered since 2018.
“One of the goals of the Education Committee we have formed at MGREP is to share our research by presenting it to Mexico’s academic community,” says Meza Soria “During these academic visits, we also share our experience as UCI grad students and inform Mexican students about opportunities for research abroad, specifically here at UCI.” During the 2020 winter quarter, Meza Soria gave her first talk at the Center for Technical and Higher Education (CETYS University) campus in Tijuana, where she earned her master’s degree. She hopes to set up more talks at other institutions in Mexico. “Here at UCI, I have learned about software design in a very original way, and I would love to take this teaching approach back to my hometown,” she says, “so I’m talking to professors there to give some seminar talks to undergraduates and maybe even do a design workshop.”
During her talks, she plans to highlight various resources and opportunities available to students. “Part of my message is about the resources,” she says. “There are people with talent who could go to grad school or have an experience abroad, but sometimes they don’t know about the resources available or they don’t trust their own skills.” She stresses that sometimes such students just need someone to say, “you’re good at this,” because they don’t always recognize their own talent. “That’s another part of the message I want to give them. Go out of your comfort zone [and] don’t be afraid of failure.”
Gallardo Valencia is looking forward to not only mentoring Meza Soria with her research but also helping with her outreach to students in Mexico. “I am excited about collaborating with Adriana on her initiatives with underrepresented communities.”
Just as Gallardo Valencia worked as a software engineer before studying at UCI and is grateful for the support of her adviser, Meza Soria worked as a software engineer in Mexico before coming to UCI and is appreciative of her adviser, Professor van der Hoek. “He has been a big support for me since the beginning, and all his conversations with me about believing in myself have been really important for me to get to this third year.”
Furthermore, just as Gallardo Valencia was moved to help others after receiving the Miguel Velez fellowship, Meza Soria similarly feels inspired to return the favor. “To Rosalva, I want to say thank you for caring and for supporting students just as you were supported as a student,” she says. “It’s not only the economic support I have received, but also giving me that example of helping someone else; now, I want to help someone else too… so it’s like a chain of giving back.”
Gallardo Valencia is heartened to hear this. “I am touched by the impact that the Rosalva Gallardo-Valencia fellowship is having not only for UCI students but also for UCI alumni,” she says, noting that other UCI alumni are also contributing to the fellowship. “I took one small step, and now the community is taking it further to amplify the impact of the fellowship.”
— Shani Murray