This alumnus lent his bass voice to the Caltech Glee Club, performing bright Broadway tunes as well as somber Gregorian chants for audiences throughout California. Over four years, his fellow crooners felt like family. When he married in 1969, members of the Glee Club sang at his wedding. 

In the classroom, this native of Portland, Oregon, studied mathematics and computer science with the late professor of applied philosophy and computer science Frederick Thompson. Providing a glimpse into the future of artificial intelligence, Thompson designed a system architecture that enabled people to retrieve information from computers using human language instead of programming language. This innovation, known today as natural language processing (NLP), powers search engines, smart home devices, and ChatGPT.

This alumnus taught middle school math following graduation. Soon after, he was drafted into the army and lent his programming and mathematics skills to help the military scale down operations during the Vietnam War. Soon, he returned to Caltech for graduate school. Reunited with Thompson’s group, he wrote instructions that parsed adjectives and adverbs from English sentences and translated the information into a format Thompson’s system could understand. However, 1970s-era computing power made progress frustratingly slow for this alumnus. 

He left academia for industry and had a remarkable career at Xerox Corporation. As a senior programmer and manager, he helped create the Xerox 8010 Star Information System, a forerunner of the modern personal computer. This was the first commercial product to include a mouse and a graphical user interface, enabling users to navigate by clicking icons, buttons, and menus instead of typing commands.

“Twice in my life, I’ve been at places that were at the cutting edge of technology,” he says. “To be a part of it was so much fun.” 

Now enjoying life funding and managing a private foundation, this alumnus shares his love of engineering with elementary and middle schoolers in Los Angeles, California. He has helped launch more than 400 student robotics teams at more than 300 schools in low-income communities. 

This alumnus understands what it is like to have the talent but not the financial resources to succeed. His father was a railroad worker, and his mother was a food server who later opened a restaurant. Together, they could not afford their son’s college tuition. Thankfully, the Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded him scholarships. 

LeRoy (BS ’69, MS ’75) 
and Anita Nelson

To ensure that new generations of talented students can follow their dreams at Caltech, Torchbearer LeRoy Nelson (BS ’69, MS ’75) and his wife, Anita Nelson, have made a $2 million bequest to the Institute. Their commitment will bolster the undergraduate scholarship fund they endowed in 2019. The couple’s gift also advances the Initiative for Caltech Students, a fundraising campaign to enhance the student experience. Among other priorities, the initiative seeks to raise $100 million in scholarship funds and eliminate the need for student loans.

“I received some fantastic scholarships that enabled me to become a first-generation college graduate,” LeRoy says. “That generosity is one of the main reasons I give today and why I want to help Caltech students.”