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Top undergrad scholar adds University Medal to his resume

| 07 May 2003

Last December, after Ankur Luthra was awarded a coveted Rhodes Scholarship and then graduated from Berkeley with two bachelor’s degrees, he could have taken a well-earned break.

Instead, the 21-year-old began conducting workshops to encourage other top students to compete for prestigious scholarships and jobs, while continuing his mission to provide hundreds of underprivileged and at-risk youth with computers, software and traning.
Many who know Luthra were not surprised, then, to learn that he will end his tenure at Berkeley as University Medalist, receiving the honor on May 15 at the campus’s Commencement Convocation.

The University Medal is awarded each year to an exemplary graduating senior with a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.96. It has been considered the top honor for a graduating senior since it was established in 1871.

Not only did Luthra maintain a 4.0 GPA, including 16 A+ marks, he did so in an abbreviated three and a half years in two challenging majors: electrical engineering and computer sciences (EECS) and business administration.

“He was chosen from a pool of absurdly talented candidates,” says William Nazaroff, professor of environmental engineering and chair of the Committee on Prizes. “On top of his impressive academic achievements, he demonstrated a visionary entrepreneurial bent.”

Leaping the digital divide
Combining his interests in computer science and business, Luthra founded Computer Literacy 4 Kids (CL4K), a Berkeley-based nonprofit, after noticing a troubling digital divide among low-income students.

“Because of CL4K, villages in Rajastani, India, now have access to the latest computer technology,” says Ravi Bhandari, a visiting assistant professor of economics who has known Luthra for years. “It is refreshing to see a business student be able to think critically and carefully about difficult world issues such as global poverty and economic development.”

Luthra, who remains president of the 17-member nonprofit organization, says, “I see people who are perfectly motivated, who are incredibly sharp, but who don’t have adequate resources,” he said. “I think education is the safest and surest route out of poverty. To me, it’s depressing to find people who have the drive, diligence and intelligence to take that route, but who don’t have the books and equipment. It’s wasted potential, and that is a big deal.”

An only child, Luthra lived in San Jose until he was 12, when his family moved to Saratoga. He credits the diversity of the Berkeley campus for nudging him out of his shell.

“The more diverse your peers are, the more you’re going to learn from them, and the more you’re going to grow as a person,” he says. “Here, there’s a cutting-edge culture. People are challenging the status quo rather than perfecting the knowledge of it. It’s such an alive, active campus.”

Among the numerous scholarships and awards Luthra has garnered over the past few years are the Regents, Barry M. Goldwater, and Bechtel scholarships. He is also a member of several honor societies, including Phi Beta Kappa and Mensa.

He plans to pursue a master’s degree in computer science when he attends Oxford University this fall as a Rhodes Scholar. After Oxford, he will study for his J.D. and MBA in a four-year joint program at Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, where he has already been accepted.