Dimitar Kirilov (’20) On Winning the 2021 Fulbright Bulgaria Alumni Scholarship
Dimitar Kirilov (’20), who studied Computer Science at AUBG, has won the 2021 Fulbright Alumni Scholarship and will pursue an M.Sc. in Computer Science with a specialization in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Southern California. We spoke to him to learn more about his aspirations to use AI to help resolve global challenges, what makes AUBG special, and the significance of being the first Roma student to receive a Fulbright grant in Bulgaria.
Congratulations on the scholarship! What do you think helped you stand out from the competition?
I can't say for sure. It is hardly just a high GRE test result. Probably the great effort I put in to gain support from Fulbright. I showed my desire to specialize in Artificial Intelligence and where else if not where this field is developing the most, and the fastest, namely California. I guess it shows when a person knows what they want and fights for it with all their heart. It's hard to evaluate a person's profile, but it's not hard to see the spark of conviction, aspiration, and faith that someone has.
You will be studying M.Sc. in Computer Science with a specialization in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Southern California. Why did you choose this particular program and what do you expect to learn there?
Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by computers and technology, which are constantly evolving. Now on the front line are technologies related to the development of Artificial Intelligence. Many people look at AI with distrust and prejudice, as has always been the case when science progresses. In my opinion, humanity is facing major challenges, such as global climate change, major social disparities and tensions between different economic and political drivers. Our planet is increasingly becoming a global "village" that needs synchronized interaction of systems. Mankind must find a way to form this interaction because it becomes more and more clear to all of us that we are interdependent and that our lives and the future of the planet and humanity lie in this interdependence. Advances in science and technology have always helped humanity in such periods to overcome challenges. The University of Southern California is investing in research in this direction and develops environment for interdisciplinary interactions.
In what ways has your AUBG education supported your personal and professional development? What are the highlights of your AUBG experience – both in terms of academics and student clubs?
I finished high school in Spain and could have continued at a large university there, but I chose to return to Bulgaria and apply to AUBG for two main reasons. I decided to return to Bulgaria because in general, the „Bulgarian school“ of Computer Science, in my opinion and according to many others, is one of the best in the world. I decided to apply to AUBG largely because of the stories my father would often tell. He was at AUBG for a period of one year, studying English in an intensive program at the AUBG English Language Institute in 1994-1995. He has many friends from there. He recorded with a synthesizer the entire musical background for the first musical at AUBG. Together with their friends, they started organizing Christmas charity concerts. According to him, and now that’s also my opinion, AUBG is probably the best university in Europe, because it is not just a place to receive knowledge and a diploma, but more of a place where one learns to be “Human” - demanding the best of himself and understanding others, a leader of his life and a servant of society. AUBG is really this and will always remain in a special place in my heart with the professors and the friends from the Logos Club, the Hub club and the Rock Jamming Club.
You are the first Roma student to receive a Fulbright grant in Bulgaria. What are the challenges in front of Roma people in terms of educational opportunities and what changes do you hope to see in the future?
The Roma community has lived in Europe for more than ten centuries, but unfortunately, it is still considered as “foreign” by many Europeans. During these centuries, due to different political, religious, and economic ambitions, the Roma community has been systematically stigmatized, deliberately demonized, and oppressed. For hundreds of years, many false, negative stereotypes have been accumulated and passed down from generation to generation. This has led to a huge gap in mutual trust, acceptance, and interaction between Roma and non-Roma, which also affects the field of education. Roma were not involved in the creation of social systems, they were not allowed to participate. Therefore, the systems are inadequate to the Roma community on the one hand, and on the other, they do not create preconditions for trust and effectiveness. The decision may be difficult to accept, but it is not difficult to understand - the Roma are part of Europe and they must be allowed to participate in the processes of developing policies and systems concerning the Roma community and our society as a whole.
What are your career plans for after graduation?
I have two very intense years ahead of me at USC. It is difficult to plan accurately and long-term in a pandemic situation and its aftermath. But generally, I am hoping to find a challenging project to get involved in. I have friends, AUBG students who graduated before me and work in Sofia on projects related to Machine Learning and AI. I will probably join them and contribute with the experience gained at USC.