UI alum heads to D.C. with presidential fellowship

From Hawkeye to Presidential Fellow, Nelson A. Colón Vargas will take part in the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, using his skills obtained from the UI in Washington.

Alexandra Skores, News Reporter

From the Old Capitol to the White House, University of Iowa alum Nelson A. Colón Vargas will take part in the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, which is designed to bring the innovation economy into government through the people.

According to the Presidential Innovation Fellows website, “This highly competitive program pairs talented, diverse technologists and innovators with top civil servants and change-makers working at the highest levels of the federal government to tackle some of our nation’s biggest challenges.”

In an email from the deputy press secretary in the U.S. General Services Administration, Colón said, the program is housed in the General Services Administration, which pairs tech experts and entrepreneurs from the private sector with government agencies to drive change and modernize agencies.

“I have been detailed to the Office of the Chief Technology Officer in the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Colón said in the email. “I am leading efforts to improve the VA’s data quality, automation, and fraud-prevention capabilities, so we can provide our veterans with better, faster, and more secure services.”

With the new fellowship, he will stay in Washington for a year. However, he hopes to stay longer than that because he enjoys the work.

“Before I joined [Presidential Innovation Fellows], I was in the private sector working as a data scientist in the fraud and cyber security space,” he said. “I applied for the program because it felt like a great place to put my knowledge and expertise to good use and a way to give back to society. Coming in, I had no idea that my job was going to be as exciting and fulfilling as it is. So if your knowledge, interests, and passions lie at the intersection of technology and helping others, I encourage you to become a [Presidential Innovation Fellows].”

Colón said his time at the UI really helped him in his decisions about his career path.

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“I received an M.S. and Ph.D. in mathematics from the UI in December 2014 and May 2016, respectively,” he said. “I had a great mentor, [Professor Emeritus] Phil Kutzko, who helped me throughout the process of applying to Iowa and through my first few years there and also a great thesis adviser, Professor Charles Frohman, who guided my research projects and thesis. UI and Iowa as a whole will always have a special place in my heart.”

Frohman said he very much supports Colón’s work.

“I keep in contact with him still,” Frohman said. “He is a very warm fellow, and I am very proud of him.”

Joe Kearney, the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, said the UI is proud of the work of Colón Vargas.

“We’re delighted that Iowa expertise will be put to such excellent use through Colón’s appointment as a Presidential Innovation Fellow,” Kearney said. “Our graduate mathematics program is among the finest in the nation, and Colón will be a tremendous asset for policymakers.”

Colón also noted how important his time at the UI was and how it led him to be where he is today.

“I didn’t just get a degree from UI, I got an opportunity to become part of a community,” he said. “I got the privilege of serving at the Graduate Student Senate, had the opportunity to work with the Math Department on recruitment initiatives, and even got a chance to mentor a younger generation of math students. Some of my happiest memories are from riding my bicycle from town to town and soaking in the wonderful nature scenery Iowa has to offer.”