“He was exactly the type of student I went to UCLA to be around,” said his friend Ian Schultz, an aerospace engineering senior. “It isn’t just that he was keenly intelligent – he was – but it was that his enthusiasm pushed others to do their best as well. Even as he was going in and out of the hospital early this last fall quarter, I would see him in the computer lab before AIAA meetings, working hard. Only someone who had the kind of intense will to succeed that Vishal had could have done that.”
His drive was evident at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, Calif., where Parikh was the valedictorian of his graduating class in 2005 and was named a National Merit Scholar.
At UCLA, he continued to excel in his studies as an aerospace engineering major with a near-perfect GPA. Outside of his classes, he was a member of the school’s AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) Rocket Club and Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society. He also served as a homework grader and as a SAT/PSAT tutor.
Parikh joined the UCLA Energy and Propulsion Research Laboratory, headed by professors Ann Karagozian and Owen Smith, as an undergraduate researcher in the spring of 2008. He immediately impressed lab members with how quickly he could pick up new concepts.
“One day, I gave him an image processing book so he could familiarize himself with the basics, because he did not have any prior knowledge on the subject,” graduate student Sophonias Teshome said. “Within two hours, he put together an image processing algorithm that would have taken me hours longer to write.”
“In a university filled with exceptionally bright students, Vishal was among the best of the best,” said Karagozian, of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department (MAE). “He had a rare talent and an amazing ability to approach difficult problems. It was a privilege to have known him and to have had him work in our research family.”
Parikh continued to make great strides as a budding aerospace engineer during a summer internship in 2008 at Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Aerospace Systems group in San Bernardino, Calif.
“Vishal was an exceptional young engineer and it was a lot of fun to give him some difficult problems to work,” said Rich Gibbons, his supervisor at Northrop Grumman. “I used his analysis results to give to some of the other young engineers to show them how to approach problems. We are very saddened to hear of his passing and our thoughts are with his family.”
For his superior academic profile along with his full portfolio of extracurricular activities, Parikh was recognized with MAE’s 2009 Outstanding Aerospace Engineering B.S. Student Award. His family accepted the award at a memorial service for him, held on May 9, from MAE Department Chair, professor Adrienne Lavine.
Vishal Parikh touched many lives in a positive way and will be fondly remembered. He is survived by his parents, Asha and Sanjay, his sister, Amita, a junior at UC Berkeley, and his grandparents.
“His unshakeable diligence as a student, however great, was handily surpassed by his grace as an individual,” said friend Alec Pezeshkian, a senior materials engineering student. “Vishal’s time with us was cut tragically short, but the shared memories we hold of him will henceforth resound ever more brilliantly.”
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Vishal’s memory to the non-profit group www.wonderofreading.org.