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Cal Poly Freshman and Dublin High School Alum Nicholas Sinai Selected as Prestigious University Innovation Fellow

May 7, 2014
Nicholas Sinai

Nicholas Sinai

With the academic calendar winding down, we often wonder how some of Dublin High School’s graduates are faring. Many are continuing their academic pursuits at universities both near and far away. Last week, received a press release issued from Cal Poly University San Luis Obispo. The subject matter centered on Dublin High School Class of 2013 graduate, Mr. Nicholas Sinai. The information shared was certainly worthy of a press release as Nick was one of 66 students, and one of only two freshman, from across to the country to be selected as a University Innovation Fellow by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter).

The program is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is directed by Stanford University and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. The purpose of the program is to provide a platform and support to student leaders that will work to create institutional change that would foster creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation. The hope is that these students will enhance these activities at their respective campuses. At the same time, it would be a training ground for their careers post-college. In order to be eligible, there is an application/screening and a six week online training process. Subsequently, accepted candidates were able to spend time with their network of new Fellows at both Google and Stanford University.

Acceptance into this program is a remarkable achievement in itself. However, as we came to understand Mr. Sinai a bit better, he’s actually been preparing for the opportunity his entire life. We begin with comments from some of his former Dublin High School teachers. We are confident that you memories of Nicholas are very clear. Please comment on Nicholas – both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Jennifer Angel-Diaz (AP English Literature And Composition): “Outside of class, Nick participated in a program called ‘Book Buddies’ that my mother, Mary Angel, and I started in 2008. Our AP class sent books and letters to second-grade students at Wilson Elementary School (where my mother teaches) in Richmond, CA every month to encourage literacy and provide positive role models for the elementary students. As a class, we also visited their school and went on a field trip with them to Tilden Park’s Nature Center and Little Farm. Nick embraced his job as a mentor and worked with a particularly behaviorally challenged student. Under Nick’s tutelage and guidance, this second-grader became engaged in learning and reading.

“Nick continued to encourage him to work hard and study through the letters he sent and he introduced his buddy to the idea that he could make himself better by reading. Nick shared and read some of his favorite self-empowerment books and authors with this student. At one point during one of our field trips, all the second-grade students were running around playing while Nick and his buddy sat on the ground, propped against a wall, reading from a book about becoming a successful person and a leader. Nick’s buddy was engrossed with what he was hearing. This is typical of the kind of impact Nick has on people. He is continually working to better himself and everyone around him. It is no surprise to me that Nick has been chosen to participate in this program.”

Julianne Sundstrom (AP Biology): “I remember Nick as being very engaged in AP Biology.  I think it almost surprised him how well he connected to the subject. He participated daily in discussions and frequently connected what we were learning about to his own life and real world situations. Many days he would linger at the end of class to ask a question or finish a thought.”

Ron Rubio (AP U.S. History): “Nick was a very ‘hungry ‘ student.  He was always asking questions, asking for clarification always wanting to go deeper into what we were discussing. He was the kind of kid all teachers like to have in class–very outspoken and curious.  He was also very creative in his work.   Outside of the class he was a very well rounded kid, he was an athlete and also very theatrical–He was in the talent show and a participant in Mr. Dublin.  He was also one of our better actors in the Drama productions.  He was the lead in a number of plays.  He starred in ‘Picnic’ to great praise.  Nick was a kid that had an immense amount of intellectual promise and his outgoing personality and creativity make him a ‘natural’ for entrepreneurial activity.  He can go ‘outside the box’ to find solutions the average person might never imagine.”

Mike Halket (Wrestling Coach): “Nick definitely caught my attention from the 1st day of class.  His intelligence and enthusiasm for learning is obvious upon first meeting.  Nick likes to be challenged and will make his teachers push him.  Nick connects information in ways that is rare for a person his age.  He doesn’t compartmentalize information by subject, it’s all just information to him.  So he might ask you something about a passage he read in his English class as it relates to science class.” Epicenter offers students guidance and support to become agents of change and to bring more entrepreneurial activity to their campuses. In your view, how does this definition reflect on your relationship to Nicholas?

Sundstrom: “Nick has the type of personality that would make a great entrepreneur.  He’s very friendly, open, thoughtful, and intelligent.  Not only would he be able to come up with innovative ideas, he would be able to communicate them to other people and get them excited and on-board.”

Halket: “Nick always expressed an interest in finance and business.  This struck me as odd, because his main academic pursuits are math and science.  With his intellect and ability to think outside the box I’m sure he can mesh his personal interests with his career goals.

“Additionally, a coach couldn’t ask for a harder working athlete then Nick.  He was a leader in the practice room.  If the team had some work to do, Nick would do it 1st and do it hardest.  And then push those around him to try and succeed at the task.”

Some of his former teachers have clearly formed recollections about Nicholas. But, who knows their child better than his parents? was able to meet with Norman and Kathy Sinai to collect some of their thoughts on this achievement. As parents, we are assuming that you wanted to help guide Nicholas in his college choices. Please describe this process.

Norman and Kathy Sinai

Norman and Kathy Sinai

Kathy Sinai: “For me, the process was I wanted Nick to apply to his dream schools. I wanted him to have access to business and science because he has a strong interest in both. As a mom, I wanted him to be on the West coast, but if he really felt his needs were better met on the East coast I would have told my husband to factor in a plane ticket every two months for me to visit him in the college budget. Cal Poly SLO turned out to have it all for Nick, me and my husband were much more methodical than I in choosing which schools to apply to.” It appears that Nicholas is a very driven young man. He was balancing athletics as well as numerous AP/Honors classes. How did you help him to navigate this minefield while attempting to maintain a balance in his life?

Norman Sinai: “Nick was wrestling, doing his AP Honors classes, and for at least a couple of years, also had the lead role in plays for Drama (those were some hectic times).

“To help Nick navigate the challenges of all this, we always encouraged him that he could do it, always. And we were always there to talk to him when it was challenging, whether it was he was having a tough time getting started on homework, needed assistance in establishing a better schedule, or because he was tired, had other things on his mind, etc. One of us, often both of us, we were there to listen, and often recognize he was having a challenge, and we’d say, “let’s go, son, let’s get started.” Or to discuss any problems or distractions so he could move forward. We instituted mental toughness from a very young age with our kids.  Kathy and I, coincidentally, were both on our own when we were 17 years old. We had to struggle and endure early in our lives, so in essence, we have always instituted the mindset that rewards come with sacrifice, most of the rewards are at the top, and you’ll reap what you sow, so get sowing.” The Epicenter fellowship opportunity is both unique and prestigious. What was your initial reaction to him being accepted and please articulate how he shared this news with you.

Kathy Sinai: “Nick called to tell me the essay he wrote for Professor York got chosen and he was going to get to go to Google & Stanford for a week, all expenses paid. He was really excited and so was I, but I don’t think at this point, either one of us knew exactly what or how big of an honor this was, I certainly didn’t. I was happy for him. Google and Stanford are dream places to be for him, for business and science. I looked up the criteria Nick needed to be nominated, and realized his professor thought enough of Nick to nominate him, and I called Nick and asked him if he realized what a big deal this was and he was still being very humble about it, which made me even more proud of him.” What advice would you share with parents that have students that have STEM-centered interests?

Norman Sinai: “I would suggest as we have done with our children, recognizing and fostering the interests early, this could be by taking family field trips to science museums, playing science based games, building science & tech models, etc. When finding a child’s academic interests we’ve found it’s important to nurture that interest with both inside and outside of school activities that the child feels is fun. This is something we do with both of children.” Nicholas was fortunate to have multiple choices when it came to college admissions. Describe how you are feeling not that he is continuing his in-State enrollment at Cal Poly SLO.

Kathy Sinai: “I’m feeling so relieved, it’s hard to know if it’s the right choice until they start. Nick got into some really good schools on the east coast with academic scholarships, but it wasn’t just about money. Nick is so happy at Cal Poly SLO. The people and staff there are really encouraging and accommodating. It almost didn’t get on his list because it is a state school, we didn’t realize what a good school it is and we would have passed up a huge opportunity because of our viewpoint of firstly looking at major universities.”

So, now we finally arrive at the focal point of this story: 2013 Dublin High School graduate and first year student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. When the news went public, Nick was going through mid-term exams and life was a bit hectic. But, as you might imagine, he persevered, prioritized and was able to respond to our interview request. We couldn’t be happier with his responses and his view on this rather exclusive opportunity.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo As a freshman at SLO, how would you evaluate your first year of college? How have your experiences differed from your expectations?

Nicholas Sinai: “This first year has been an amazing learning experience, and not just in terms of academia. I’ve had the opportunity to explore Entrepreneurship in depth and solidified that as being a key component of my future. I’ve come to understand myself and life at a new depth, independence has played heavily into this. I’m continuously correcting my goals to reflect the ideas I’m learning here and I feel that being at Poly is like having Batman’s utility belt. I didn’t really come in with any expectations other than to succeed at whatever interests I decided to follow here. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out there were a plethora of resources to do just that.” You appeared to have multiple choices for your college career. Please explain how and why you now feel that Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was the best fit for you.

Sinai: “I chose Cal Poly because it was the best educational and experiential learning opportunity with potential to expand to engineering. But, I really didn’t see how perfect a match we were until I became more involved in the Entrepreneurship community. Doing so truly got me to feeling the realization of my goals to be an entrepreneur within reach. The “learn by doing” attitude that engulfs the curriculum is extremely beneficial, in creating this. The city is an amazingly serene environment and the weather is gorgeous, I think we had just two weeks of rain during winter.  I feel like I can do anything here, and that’s really all I need. Please share how you became aware of the Epicenter opportunity and describe the application, review, interview process and the initial six week training program.

Sinai: “A mentor and role model of mine, an Upperclassman, saw my drive and passion to improve lives via Entrepreneurship and thought that I would be a good fit for the position. He in turn recommended me to the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship who then extended the invitation to me via the president of Cal Poly Entrepreneurs, the club of which I’m an officer. The first question of the application was “Why do you exist”, right up my alley, but nonetheless this application was one of the hardest I’ve ever done. Oh and every question was capped at Twitter length (140 char.)  Moving on to the interview was exciting news and it was a pleasurable experience, I was asked to elaborate on my vision of Innovation and Entrepreneurship on campus and to talk a bit about what makes me a good fit for the program. After the interview, training opened my eyes to Innovation ecosystem at large on campus and helped me to develop skills and ideas to implement change. The training culminated with a meet up in Silicon Valley of all University Innovation Fellows from across the country.”

University Innovation Fellows on the Google Provide some of the details from your visit to Google and the time spent at Stanford University.

Sinai: “This experience was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, ever. I met the Head of Innovation and Creative Projects for Google, The Founder of 3-Day Startup, Obi Felton of GoogleX the secret Google lab. Oh, and that was just in the first two hours we arrived. That was at Google headquarters, the trip was jam packed with meeting world-class innovators and entrepreneurs dedicating time to give us the tools we needed. When we went to the Stanford Institute of Design there was an interactive panel with some amazing people including Chin-Yu Hu cofounder of a satellite imagery startup which raised 90 million in funding and the cofounder of Asana Justin Rosenstein. Justin gave an inspiring speech on how selfless love drives his need to continue in pushing a better product – in each iteration. Hearing someone say, “I have enough money to never work again, but I do it because I love it” in person is a shocking thing. Overall it was an uplifting, and defining experience. It helped me to define the kind of environment I wanted to come back to Cal Poly and build.” The program offers a pathway for university students the support and resources to become an agent of change at their respective campuses. In your own words, please articulate what this opportunity means to you.

Sinai: “Every student deserves access to an environment that cultivates the ability to dream, design, and to deliver. I’m honored to be in a position to promote the growth of such an environment. My goal is for Cal Poly to be such an effective catalyst in building successful and relevant innovators and that we are a nationally ranked entrepreneurship program.” In the course of your initial training, you have connected with Fellows from across the country. Please share what this experience has meant to you and how it may impact you in the future.

Sinai: “That’s what it all comes down to for me, its people. I met some extremely accomplished innovators including a student from Yale who builds Formula-1 Race cars and is looking for a way to inspire students who have all the job security in the world to jump outside of their comfort zones and into the risky world of entrepreneurship.  His name is Chinmay and now we are friends, which is so cool to me. I have another friend whose weather software could very well be in the next run of every Mercedes sold. Having other friends who are ALREADY changing the world is not only useful for role modeling but its hard proof students do make a difference. These people are my support group and having them there for me is already working out to be an amazing resource. I expect to be working along-side them far into the future and after I graduate.”

With each succeeding profile and in every year, it is wondrous to be exposed to the students that are matriculating out of Dublin Unified School District. Nicholas Sinai is not only flourishing in his first year of college. He is also gaining exposure in a very unique program and is developing relationships that will last a lifetime. They are relationships that may someday change our world. would like to thank Nick’s former teachers and his family for contributing to this profile.

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One Comment
  1. Katie Dzugan permalink
    May 7, 2014 10:38 am

    Reblogged this on Dream. Design. Deliver. and commented:
    University Innovation Fellow, Nicholas Sinai, is recognized by his high school (Dublin High School) for his entrepreneurial pursuits at Cal Poly University San Luis Obispo during his freshman year. His past teachers and family provide an amazing insight into the type of person Nicholas is, and we couldn’t agree more. Keep up the great work Nicholas!

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