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UC Berkeley student wins prestigious Rhodes Scholarship
09 December 2002

By Sarah Yang, Media Relations

Berkeley - Ankur Luthra, a University of California, Berkeley, senior who is double majoring in electrical engineering and computer sciences (EECS) and business administration, has won a 2003 Rhodes Scholarship.

Ankur Luthra
Ankur Luthra (Bart Nagel photo)
 

The Rhodes Scholarship Trust announced 32 U.S. winners this past Saturday. Winners of the prestigious scholarship were chosen from among 981 applicants from 341 colleges and universities nationwide.

As a freshman, Luthra began tutoring high school students in computer skills when he noticed a troubling digital divide. As a result, he founded the Berkeley non-profit Computer Literacy 4 Kids in 2001 to help underprivileged youth receive computers, software and training.

"I believe it is important to make a difference where you can," said Luthra, 21. "It's great to have a global impact, but you can't forget about problems close to home. Computer Literacy 4 Kids is a way I can help locally."

"This is fantastic and a great honor for Ankur Luthra and his parents," said Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "The Rhodes Scholarship is widely recognized as one of the most competitive scholarships available and one of the most prestigious because so many Rhodes scholars have gone on to positions of great distinction and leadership."

Luthra is the 21st Rhodes Scholarship winner from UC Berkeley. He was preceded by Tomasz Malinowski, a 1989 winner.

Of the 21 winners from UC Berkeley, one student resigned the scholarship in 1928 for unknown reasons.

The scholarship was created in 1902 through the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist. It is the oldest international study award available to American students, providing them with two to three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. The U.S. scholars will join a group of international scholars from 18 other jurisdictions around the world.

Scholarship recipients are chosen for their high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor. Past U.S. Rhodes Scholars include Bill Clinton and Bill Bradley.

In just the past three years, Luthra has been awarded 14 scholarships and awards. Among those honors are the Regents', Barry M. Goldwater and Donald A. Strauss scholarships. He is a member of several honor societies, including Phi Beta Kappa and MENSA.

Luthra's parents, Ravi and Tripta, immigrated to the United States from Punjab, India. An only child, Luthra was born in San Jose, and the family moved to Saratoga when he was 12.

Luthra, who maintains a 4.0 grade point average, is editor-in-chief and founder of the Berkeley EECS Research Journal. In 1999, he founded the music portal, YourMP3Guide.com. Although the company became one of many victims of the dot-com meltdown one year later, Luthra looks upon the experience with fondness.

"You learn from your failures as well as your successes," he said. "You have to be able to take risks in life if you're going to succeed, and you can't do that if you're afraid to fail once in a while. It also proves I'm human."

Jitendra Malik, professor and chair of the Division of Computer Science in UC Berkeley's College of Engineering, recommended Luthra to UC Berkeley's selection committee early in the competition.

"Luthra is one of the brightest students to have passed through my class in years," said Malik. "He steps up to challenging problems in class and is often there to act as a mentor to his peers. He excels intellectually, but he also has a drive to succeed that is important for Rhodes Scholars."

In engineering, Luthra has worked on game-theory models of the Internet - applying the Nash equilibrium principle to Web traffic - and on artificial intelligence projects designed to improve robots' throwing skills. Luthra is also studying the business of non-profit organizations.

"In the long term, I want to work on assistive robotics and technology that solves societal problems," said Luthra. "My inspiration, my parents, are very selfless, and they instilled those values in me. I've been very fortunate in my life, so it's important for me to give back to society."

Students chosen this year will be entering the University of Oxford 100 years after the first class of Rhodes Scholars did in 1903. Luthra said he intends to pursue a master's degree in computer science there.

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