Alex Cavgalar came to the United States in 1993 to study at Wichita State University.
Now, the Turkish-born engineer is building a local high-tech business, and he was recognized at a White House event this week for those efforts.
Cavgalar, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering from WSU and is founder and chief technology officer of Ulterius Technologies, was an Obama administration Champions of Change nominee.
The Champions of Change program is aimed at showcasing groups of Americans — individuals, businesses and organizations — who the White House said in a news release “are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.”
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Cavgalar was nominated by Joni Cobb, CEO of the Pipeline entrepreneurial fellowship program. Cavgalar was one of three Pipeline fellows who were invited to attend the Immigrant Innovators Champions of Change event Wednesday at the White House.
A 2007 Pipeline fellow, Olga Koper, and Pierre Barbeau, a 2013 fellow from Kansas City, also attended. Koper was one of 12 people named a Champion of Change; she served on a panel discussion that was webcast by the White House.
Cavgalar said he and the other nominees were able to visit with a number of administration officials for a couple of hours after the event
“This was wonderful in so many levels,” Cavgalar said of the event.
The administration officials who mingled with those attending the event included: U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park; Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council; Stephanie Valencia, special assistant to the president and principal deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement; and Doug Rand, policy adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Cavgalar said he told them his story – about how he came to the United States from Turkey to study at WSU and ended up working here for companies such as the former Symbios Logic and later Lucent Technologies. He became a U.S. citizen in 2001.
He said he underscored to them his belief that “this country is a land of opportunity.” He said he also told them of his concerns with the restrictions on the H1B visa program, which allows U.S. employers to hire temporary foreign workers in specialized areas such as engineering, mathematics, science and medicine. The program allows foreign workers to work in the U.S. for up to six years and also allows them to work toward legal permanent resident status.
He thinks the program needs to be less restrictive, so more international workers with advanced degrees and knowledge immigrate to the United States and “so America will not have a brain drain.”
“We definitely need to be, as a country, on the cutting edge in technology,” Cavgalar said.