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Meet Victory Circle Scholar: Paul J. Grad III



1. Can you tell us a little about who you are and where you’re from?

My name is Paul Grad and I am a 20-year-old community college student majoring in Computer Science. I was born in Virginia but I have spent most of my life in California, living in San Diego and now Los Angeles. My parents are divorced: I live with my father, who retired from the Navy after 20 years of service and now works as a Sous Chef; my mother works in retail.

I am the first in my family to pursue a degree in a STEM field, and I have always had an intense interest in the sciences and mathematics. In high school, I was a member of MESA, and I competed twice with students across southern California in the Calculus Team Math competition at pre-MESA day; the first time I competed, my team came in 2nd among more than a dozen schools. After high school, I tried to join the Navy Nuclear Program after getting a 99 on the ASVAB, but I was disqualified because of asthma.

I came to West LA College in 2014 and my passion for programming was ignited when I tackled the challenging problem sets offered in Harvard’s CS50 class offered by edX. In the second semester of my freshman year, I competed in two Hackathons on behalf of West LA’s Computer Science Club while also working as a tutor for Project LEARN and doing research for West LA’s STEM program. I found out about Base 11 and jumped at the opportunity. 

2. What Base 11 program did you participate in?

I was a part of the Base 11 Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Two students from West LA college and one student from Skyline College did research with graduate students working for GALCIT. I worked as a GALCIT research faculty under Prof. Michael Ortiz’s Computational Solid Mechanics Lab.

3. What were some specific highlights of the program that stood out for you?

My mentor Arnold Nde and I did research on the optimal design of a wing structure for a lightweight aircraft. We used Finite Difference to calculate the maximum stresses on the wing during flight, and then determined which material and dimensions for the wing structure could produce minimum weight (to maximize fuel cost savings) while still not yielding to the maximum expected stresses. We then verified our results using Finite Element software.

Thanks to the graduate student David Huynh, we Base 11 Caltech students got to take several tours of the labs working under the Aerospace Department. Graduate students working in these labs directed the tours and were more than happy to answer our questions. David Huynh and Bryan Schmidt gave us lectures on graduate-level topics in Fluid and Solid mechanics and Supersonics.

I also learned useful information about theoretical and applied Computer Science and Physics, pure and applied mathematics, and solid mechanics from other Caltech summer students (who came from across the world), Caltech’s incredible libraries, and my fellow faculty at the Computational Solid Mechanics Lab.

4. How has your life changed since starting the Base 11 program?

My summer at Caltech gave me useful insight into the some of the applications of Computer Science, particularly scientific computation, and a window into various opportunities that are available for undergraduate research. Base 11 has empowered me to pursue higher education in Computer Science beyond a 2-year community college degree.

5. What are your plans for the future?

I plan to go to a 4-year university, preferably a UC, and obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Engineering. I am applying this fall to all the UCs, to CSUs, and possibly to some private universities. I already submitted a TAG with UC Irvine and will find out if I am accepted for the TAG in November. I also plan to apply for summer internships and undergraduate research.

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