Don’t fear challenges or failure – that’s the lesson from this year’s Academic Excellence winners.
Lucas Chang, who just earned his degree in electrical engineering, and Rupal Totale, who was awarded her degree in computer science, were the College of Engineering’s top two undergraduate students. Reymil Fernandez (mechanical engineering) was the college’s top graduate student.
Totale, of Pleasanton, said her father encouraged her to pursue computer science.
“And, luckily, when I tried it in high school, I enjoyed every aspect of it – the creative exertion required when working on a new project or solving interesting problems, the enjoyable and often heated collaboration with teammates, the never-ending list of tools and technologies that enable us to build great products, and the enormous breadth of the field that offers many learning and research opportunities,” she said.
Chang, from Cupertino, chose electrical engineering based on his experiences in high school.
“I chose EE because I liked E&M (electricity and magnetism) in my high school physics class, and I happened to like EE enough to stick with it for four years,” he said.
Throughout college, the two students had near perfect grades — Chang had all A’s, except for two A-minuses; Totale had just one A-minus.
Chang said his key to success was failing early.
“I’ve made, and still make, plenty of mistakes, which is okay as long as I learn from it and move on,” he said. “I have a lot of anxiety around failing to reach my goals, and this viewpoint helped me think about failures as an opportunity to grow.”
While Chang embraced mistakes as a learning tool, Totale was inspired by friends in high school and college, who encouraged her to go beyond her comfort zone.
“After graduating high school, I was determined not to be daunted by challenges, but embrace them and use them as opportunities to learn and grow, which helped me develop the right attitude towards life’s difficulties,” she said. “I was also lucky to have an amazing friend in Ben Glossner, one of the smartest and most passionate students I met during my time at Cal Poly, who made learning and working on projects big and small incredibly exciting.”
Totale, who is currently working for LinkedIn as a software engineer, said she is interested in exploring research opportunities in the future, perhaps while pursuing a master’s degree or a doctorate. Chang, who is working as a hardware development engineer for Amazon Lab126, said his dream job might entail a range of titles – from project manager to CEO.
“It’s really all up in the air,” he said. “Too much can change too quickly, and I’m a little fish that just got thrown into the ocean after getting used to my pond. My goal is to learn as much as I can in my new environment, and re-evaluate my goals when I learn more about my own interests.”