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May 27, 2008
By Sue Putnam
Regents’ Scholar Undergraduate Jessica "Jes" Ford
Jessica “Jes” Ford, the University’s undergraduate recipient for the Regents’ Scholar Award for 2008, has found the best of both worlds: she’s a champion snowboarder and notable collegiate scholar – and in both areas, she has limitless potential.
Ford’s college career has been interspersed with periods of great intensity, where she has either focused on her studies or on her snowboarding career. In fact, she had taken a few years off from college to further her snowboarding career, before returning to the University to finish her studies. She is graduating with a degree in physics from the College of Science.
“I’ve always been pretty motivated when it comes to learning things I’m interested in,” she says, “so research seems to be a natural path for me. It was hard going back to school after taking a few years off, but I just try to do my best when I commit to something.”
Ford, 25, originally from the small Alaskan town of Girdwood (population: 2,000 with one of Alaska’s truly great mountains, Mount Alyeska, located not far away), moved to Lake Tahoe after graduating from high school. She found Nevada’s campus convenient, and once she became immersed in her studies, found the Department of Physics faculty to be nurturing and inspiring to her.
“Drs. Radu Presura and Melodi Rodrigue have been my research mentors over the last few years,” she says. “They have both been really helpful and encouraging in letting me pursue the kinds of research I’m interested in, and in helping me get grants, scholarships and internships.”
Ford, who is sponsored by Heavenly Resort, Rome Snowboards, Planet Earth outwear and Neff headwear, has traveled the country in pursuit of her snowboarding career, which has included several professional victories. It’s shouldn’t be surprising, then, that she does plan on pursuing her graduate studies … soon.
“I want to do cosmology research – that’s the study of the large-scale structure of the universe,” she says. “So right now I am beginning to apply for graduate schools when I can get a Ph.D. in astrophysics or astronomy. I’m applying right now because I’m planning on taking the next year off from school, just to travel and relax.”
Regents’ Scholar Graduate Rashi Tiwari
She’s racked up what seems like every student award that exists, is working on her doctorate in mechanical engineering, co-founded NanoVation, Inc., a company that uses green technology, will spend the summer writing her dissertation and interning at GE Global Research in Albany, New York, just won the Regents’ Scholar Award for graduate students and would like to attend Harvard Law School next year. What does Rashi Tiwari want to do next?
“I want to learn how to play the drums.”
Tiwari, 26, grew up in Varanasi, India, the only child of parents who wanted her to go to medical school. But independent thinking seems to run in her family. One grandfather was a freedom fighter and one grandmother opened and ran an elementary school, an uncommon thing for a woman to do in India at the time.
“She was such a strong lady,” Tiwari said. “I always admired her strength and dedication, and just the way she had with people.”
The award-winner believes her parents pushed her into “positive competition” and told her she could achieve whatever she wanted if she was determined. Her father is an avid reader and she remembers reading a biography of Gandhi with him.
“There were so many lessons I learned from that, and it made me think about not having any limitations. When I reach a challenge, I ask myself if somebody else can do it, why can’t I?”
The University’s graduate recipient of the 2008 Regents’ Scholar Award hopes to earn her doctorate by the end of the year. Under the guidance of mechanical engineering chair and professor Kwang Kim, Tiwari’s current project deals with electroactive polymers. After receiving her undergraduate degree in instrumentation and control engineering from Pune University in India, she came to the U.S.
“I came to Nevada because of the faculty. And it’s not just their qualifications that are impressive. They’re good people as well, plus the University has such a diverse population – so many people from so many countries, yet it’s a small community that makes you feel like it’s home.”
When Tiwari is done with school, she’s not sure what specific field she’ll choose to work in, but she is certain she wants to be able to help other students. And whether she learns to play the drums or not, her advisor has no doubts about her success.
John Trent also contributed to this article.