Dr. Andres Valenzuela '04

 

Describe your path since graduating from Portsmouth Abbey School.

After graduating from Portsmouth Abbey School, I went to the University of Notre Dame for my undergraduate studies. I majored in Mechanical Engineering, minored in Theology, and spent my junior year studying Spanish literature in Toledo, Spain. During my senior year, I took my first steps into engineering research while completing my undergraduate thesis in control theory. More importantly, I met my future wife, Christina, in the spring of 2008. We were married in 2009, and Dom Ambrose Wolverton, OSB was the celebrant at our nuptial Mass.

After our wedding, we set out for Cambridge, MA, where I began graduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at MIT, while Christina studied theology at Harvard. Our oldest daughter was born just after we finished the first year of our masters programs, and another daughter and a son joined her before I finished my doctorate. For my graduate research, I focused on planning and control of legged robots. I was privileged to be a part of MIT’s team for the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). In the DRC, top robotics labs from around the world competed to field a robot that could perform selected tasks in a disaster recovery scenario. I received my Sc.D. in 2016, just a few months after our first daughter started kindergarten.

I now work as a research scientist at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). As part of the robotics group at TRI, I research robotic solutions to in-home tasks, with the goal of giving elderly adults more independence.

In the years since I left Portsmouth Abbey School, I’ve been fortunate to be able to return on a fairly regular basis, as my parents still live in Portsmouth. I also had the honor of giving a talk entitled “Beings Non-Human: What Can Robotics Teach Us About the Human Person?” at the Portsmouth Institute’s 2017 Summer Conference.

How did your experience at Portsmouth Abbey School help you become the person and professional you are today?

The academic groundwork I received at Portsmouth Abbey School was extremely helpful in college and graduate school. Math and science courses put me in good stead for my studies in engineering, while courses in the humanities gave me a broad base to build upon in my undergraduate studies. Christian Doctrine courses, especially Fr. Paschal’s course in my Fifth-Form year, gave me a strong grounding in the philosophical and theological truths that form the basis of the Catholic worldview, and more broadly of Western culture.

Music was another part of my Abbey experience that has had a huge influence on my life since then. Singing with the Abbey Singers, in the winter musicals, and in voice lessons put me on the path to one of my favorite pastimes in college and beyond. Whether it’s singing in a liturgical choir and an a cappella group at Notre Dame, or singing with our kids during nightly prayers, music is an important part of who I am, and I’m very grateful to the Abbey helping me explore it.

What is the best advice you could give to a current student?

Get to know a monk, or more than one, if possible. My relationships with the monks of Portsmouth Abbey have had the most lasting impact of any part of my Abbey experience. These are fascinating, scholarly, industrious men, who have devoted their lives to praising God through their prayer and work (which may include teaching you). I had Fr. Ambrose for Music 1 & 2, as well as Sacred Music. We remained in touch after I left the Abbey, and his quiet holiness was an inspiration to our entire family. It was a great joy for us that our son, whose middle name is “Ambrose,” had the opportunity to meet his namesake before Fr. Ambrose passed away in 2016.