Two Recent Caltech Alumni Win Chang Career Exploration Prize

Prize aims to provide alumni with the freedom to explore careers outside of academia

Published : Monday, December 10, 2018 | 5:49 AM


Sean McKenna (BS ’17), left, and Kyle Lakatos (MS '14)

Caltech has awarded the inaugural Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize to one undergraduate alumnus, Sean McKenna (BS ’17, Economics and Applied and Computational Mathematics) and one graduate alumnus, Kyle Lakatos (MS ’14, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics). McKenna received the Chang Prize for his proposed project “Exploring Ways to Tackle California’s Housing Crisis,” and Lakatos received the prize to work on his project “Neighborhoods for Neurons: Incorporating early childhood development health services into community centers.” The Chang Prize was created to encourage and support recent Caltech graduates who would like to explore careers outside of academia. The Chang Prize awards up to $65,000 in funding to each recipient to support them and their work on a career exploration project.

The Chang Prize was established by Milton Chang (PhD ’69) —a Caltech Distinguished Alumnus and senior trustee—and his wife, Rosalind, to provide alumni with the freedom to explore careers outside of academia and build their skills as leaders and advocates. Milton Chang says that they endowed this award to “give back, to Caltech and to America,” and because they “feel this is a good way to optimize the high potential of Techers.” These inaugural prize winners, he added, “have the potential to do great things for society.”

McKenna became interested in exploration of the housing crisis through his work as a research assistant at the Rand Corporation. The Chang Prize will allow him to spend the next year connecting with residents, housing developers, homeless shelters, technology innovators, and policymakers in California and Washington, DC to learn more about the roots of the housing crisis. His project will enable him to identify how he can best utilize his skills to make an impact on the housing crisis. McKenna says that he is grateful for the “incredible amount of freedom” the Chang Prize will give him “to figure out how the skills and passions I developed at Caltech might translate into making a difference in the housing crisis, a problem that is very real for me, other Techers, and all residents of California.”

Lakatos will use the Chang Prize funding to explore how to incorporate early childhood development health services into community centers in the San Francisco Bay Area. He plans to develop training materials for use in community centers and other non-traditional healthcare spaces. With this work, he hopes to combat health inequities by bringing early childhood development training to underserved and marginalized populations. Lakatos says that the Chang Prize entered his life at an ideal moment, while he makes “the migration in my career from a researcher and educator to a physician and policy-maker.” He says that being selected for this award will allow him to dedicate himself entirely to “developing my vision of building health-conscious communities.”

About the Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize

The Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize is an annual award open to Caltech graduates who have received their BS, terminal masters, or PhD from Caltech within the past ten years (with a preference for those who graduated in the past five years). Caltech alumni who are interested in fearlessly exploring a new career are encouraged to apply. The new application cycle for the 2019 Chang Prize will open in the spring. Learn more at


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