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Bioengineering Student Wins Strauss Scholarship to Help Visually Impaired

June 20, 2016

Harkanwalpreet Sodhi, a third-year bioengineering student, won a $10,000 Donald A. Strauss Foundation scholarship to help visually impaired people in Merced.

The scholarship will help Sodhi start a campus organization titled Engineers for COVE, which will pair a large group of engineering students from UC Merced with the Merced Center of Vision Enhancement (COVE) to develop new assistive technologies based on clients’ needs.

They’ve never had a group of engineers work with them before, and we can help develop a lot of applications that will help people,” Sodhi said. Examples he offered included engineering 3-D models of objects to help blind children understand what something looks like, or developing a device to help blind people measure foods like sticks of butter.

The Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation was established as a memorial to the late Don Strauss of Newport Beach and supports the public service projects of as many as 15 California college sophomores and juniors annually.

Sodhi, originally from Half Moon Bay, said he is interested in COVE because of his own experiences having had eye surgery and being visually impaired. He is part of the School of Engineering and works with Professor David Ardell in his computational biology lab. Sodhi will graduate next spring — just three years in — and is applying to Ph.D. programs.

Over the summer, he plans to recruit at least 20 other students who want to join Engineers for COVE so they can start work on projects in the fall. Even though Sodhi will graduate next year, he wants to make sure the group can continue even after he’s gone.

His excellent work as a student made him eligible for the scholarship, and he said it was an honor to learn he’d won.

I got a call from Duncan Strauss, who’s my Strauss Foundation mentor, telling me they had chosen me,” he said. “That felt really good.”