Leyla Kabuli, winner of the University Medal, in the Hearst Memorial Mining Building on campus.

Leyla Kabuli, a senior graduating in tunes and electrical engineering and computer sciences, is the winner of the 2021 College Medal. (UC Berkeley picture by Brittany Hosea-Smaller)

If Leyla Kabuli, a gifted musician and tech whiz, sets the bar for profitable UC Berkeley’s highest honor for a graduating senior, future contenders for the College Medal may possibly discover them selves shooting for the moon.

Leyla Kabuli playing piano in the campus's Morrison Hall.

Kabuli, at age 10, enjoying piano at the campus’s Morrison Corridor (Image courtesy of Leyla Kabuli)

At 7, Kabuli began mastering the piano. At 10, she was recognized to the pre-college or university division of the San Francisco Conservatory of Tunes with a scholarship, the place she analyzed piano, violin, bassoon and chamber tunes.

In junior substantial, she performed violin with the UC Davis Symphony. In large college, she performed piano, harpsichord, celeste and organ with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.

And that’s prior to she acquired to UC Berkeley on a prestigious Regents’ and Chancellor’s scholarship and directed her laser emphasis to electrical engineering and laptop sciences (EECS).

By her senior 12 months, she was fielding gives of complete graduate fellowships from Berkeley, Stanford and MIT. She’s sticking with Berkeley for graduate faculty.

“I could possibly be biased, but Berkeley has the best electrical engineering plan in the state,” states Kabuli, who was born in Berkeley and elevated in Davis, California.

She also credits the campus’s society, diversity and grit for her final decision to settle for the Berkeley Fellowship for Graduate Examine, which gives economical aid for 5 a long time.

As best graduating senior, Kabuli, 21, a simultaneous diploma university student in EECS and music, with a best 4. GPA, will discuss this Saturday, May possibly 15, to hundreds of her peers, in cap and robe, at a campus-huge digital graduation ceremony.

The 150-calendar year-previous College Medal acknowledges a graduating student’s fantastic investigation, community assistance and power of character, and will come with a hard cash prize.


UC Berkeley movie by Roxanne Makasdjian and Jeremy Snowden.

Kabuli’s study pursuits lie in diagnostic imaging, eyesight and notion. Among the other things, she’s experimenting with tremendous-resolution microscopy and magnetic particle imaging to help individuals in the health care profession get a much better look inside of the human human body.

On a lighter observe, she’s employing the assorted applications of engineering and computer system science to enrich the visual 3D enjoyment experience.

“Simply put, I want to lead to technology that’s likely to strengthen the top quality of people’s lives,” she states.

‘Too great to be true’

Kabuli obtained term that she’d won the medal on a the latest Friday though assembly with her analysis team on Zoom.

As a rule, University Medalists are sworn to secrecy until finally their identification is uncovered in a press release in the days primary up to commencement, so she experienced to preserve the news underneath wraps.

“I’m not a bounce-up-and-down sort of individual,” she claims. “But I was genuinely joyful for the relaxation of the working day.”

Also content will be the EECS professors who wrote her glowing advice letters.

“Leyla has perfect straight A’s, beating 450 of the strongest electrical engineering undergrads in the entire world,” wrote Steven Conolly, the M. Prepare dinner Endowed Chair of Bioengineering and EECS, in his letter recommending Kabuli for the medal.

“Yes, Leyla’s resume is presently way too great to be legitimate!” he continued. “Leyla had to overcome cultural, relatives and gender hurdles to attain her achievements.”

Kabuli sitting at a desk in a lab in the Hearst Memorial Mining Building.

In an engineering lab in the Hearst Memorial Mining Building. (UC Berkeley image by Brittany Hosea-Modest)

Kabuli prefers not to dwell on individuals obstacles, but to concentrate rather on what difficulties can be solved, she claims.

It is a lesson she learned from her mom, who came to Berkeley from Turkey as a scholar, gained her levels in EECS in the 1980s, then joined the engineering school at UC Davis, where by she teaches to this day.

“When my mom was a student at Berkeley, there ended up no feminine faculty on the electrical engineering aspect of EECS,” Kabuli says. “She taught me that when you place your thoughts to whichever you want to do, you can accomplish it. So, I’ve in no way felt like there have been any barriers for me.”

That’s why her jam-packed CV, which lists a Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalysts Ignite Grant, an Fantastic Graduate College student Teacher Award, a Samuel Silver Memorial Scholarship Award, an Edward Frank Kraft Award for Freshmen and a California Seal of Biliteracy in French and Turkish amongst her accolades.

Kabuli in Morrison in front of the poster promoting her recital. The poster has her name on it.

In entrance of a poster marketing her Hertz Corridor recital in 2019 (Image courtesy of Leyla Kabuli)

Her classical musical credits contain solo and ensemble performances at the campus’s historic Hertz Corridor and at live performance venues in California, New York, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Minnesota and Texas.

She also carried out for TEDxBerkeley and NPR’s “From the Top” podcast, which celebrates the existence and talents of younger, classically qualified musicians.

As a mentor, she’s arranged labs and displays for center and substantial faculty students in underserved educational institutions. Her preferred thing is to spark their curiosity.

“At first, they are type of apprehensive, or making an attempt to look cool,” she states. “Then, by the time they get to be hands-on in the lab and I’m doing work with them a person-on-a single, you can see their eyes mild up.”

In addition to the Berkeley Fellowship for Graduate Review, she’s the recipient of a Nationwide Science Basis fellowship for remarkable graduate students in STEM fields.

So, is there nearly anything Kabuli’s not excellent at?

“Please do not give me a ultimate test with an essay. It is not likely to go well,” she suggests. “I imagine I’ve normally been a extra analytical individual. I’m a useful particular person. I like points. I like science. I like data.”

What about when she’s taking part in audio? “The only time I ever get out of my zone is if someone’s crinkling a candy wrapper,” she says. “That just one just will get me every single time.”

Weaned on EECS

As a toddler, Kabuli created Lego structures in her mother’s workplace: “I basically grew up in the electrical and computer engineering office at UC Davis,” she recalls.

10-year-old Leyla Kabuli in front of Morrison Hall. She is wearing a pink jacket.

At 10, in front of Morrison Hall, which properties UC Berkeley’s tunes department. (Photograph courtesy of Leyla Kabuli)

She to start with caught the audio bug when she was 6 and watched Itzhak Perlman perform the violin at UC Davis’s Mondavi Middle. She preferred desperately to be up on stage with him and accompany him on the piano.

“It took a 12 months of me nagging my mother to get me a piano. She finally obtained me a Casio electronic keyboard,” she says. As her skill amount improved, so did her keyboards. Her mom acquired her a applied toddler grand, then a used grand piano.

“Kids at university noticed me as the ‘piano kid’ who usually experienced rehearsals or a competition,” she suggests.

In middle university, she performed basketball, but didn’t consider out for the workforce simply because, her violin trainer warned, broken fingers would slash brief her musical occupation.

In high college, she took AP classes in math and science, and concurrent enrollment programs from community faculties, earning almost nothing significantly less than A’s.

When it arrived time to pick a 4-calendar year school, the decision arrived down to Berkeley, UCLA, Harvard and Stanford. Berkeley gained, fingers down.

“It was one of the most effective areas where by I could do equally audio and be at a best engineering method,” she says.

Not that juggling the two was generally quick. In her freshman and sophomore many years, she zigzagged among Cory Corridor, Morrison Corridor, Dwinelle Corridor, the Hearst Memorial Mining Building and Hertz Hall for courses, educating assistant responsibilities, audio apply and recitals. In involving, she’d commute to San Francisco for rehearsals and performances.

In the summer season just before her junior 12 months, she landed an internship as a components engineering intern with Apple’s Exploratory Design Group, and labored on optics and computational imaging.

The experience taught her that the company environment was not for her, and that she could make a higher effect in academia as a professor.

In her element

When COVID-19 hit the campus in the spring of her junior yr, she and other tech-savvy instructing assistants identified them selves on the front traces of transitioning college students to remote learning.

Kabuli hiking in the hills above the Berkeley campus at sunset.

Climbing in the Berkeley hills’ Panoramic Trail in 2020. (Image courtesy of Leyla Kabuli)

As head lab educating assistant of an EECS training course with 1,000 enrolled students, she experienced a week to determine out what to do.

“We had no way of taking thousands of dollars of gear and transport it to a thousand people, suitable?” she says. “So, the very first point I had to do was archive and recreate as a great deal facts as I could to try to give college students continuity and hold them learning.”

Considering the fact that then, her daily life has calmed down noticeably. Her classes, research and instructing obligations nevertheless hold her occupied, but she also can take hikes, socializes on Zoom and watches a large amount of Tv set.

One solo piano recital at Hertz Hall stands out, as she demonstrates on her undergraduate several years at Berkeley.

It was the initial time her buddies and college in both equally songs and engineering arrived to check out her play on campus. Some in engineering didn’t even know she played piano at a virtuoso stage.

Leyla Kabuli playing the piano in Hertz Hall this month.

At the Steinway earlier this thirty day period in Hertz Corridor. (UC Berkeley picture by Brittany Hosea-Smaller)

Perched at the Steinway live performance grand piano, she performed compositions by Schubert, Stravinsky, Medtner, Chopin and Bach.

“They all sat by an hour and a half of classical tunes,” she remembers. “They were being peaceful in the course of the pieces. No a single was loud night breathing. No one particular was coughing. And at the close, they had been cheering.”

It will not be the final time Kabuli gets a standing ovation.