Inspiring Anteaters

Meet some UCI alumni who are making a difference

By Roy Rivenburg

Marinela Gombosev ’05, electrical engineering

Marinela GombosevShe’s tangled with lightning bolts, brain waves and a renegade cousin of duct tape. Marinela Gombosev, whose family fled war-torn Bosnia when she was 9, has traveled an unusual career path. At Parker Hannifin’s aerospace division, she put her UCI electrical engineering degree to work designing lightning-proof flight control circuitry for small business jets – and watching the equipment get tested with simulated bolts of electricity. From there, she jumped into the medical field, leading a team of 20 engineers in developing an allergy testing device. She simultaneously moonlighted as CEO of Hugo’s Amazing Tape, a reusable tape that sticks only to itself. The two gigs earned her a spot on OC Metro’s Hot 25 list of movers and shakers in Orange County. Now she’s executive vice president of operations and marketing for Evoke Neuroscience, which sells a machine that measures and analyzes brain functions. Among other benefits, it may help with early detection of dementia.

Jeff Greenberg, M.S. ’84, information & computer science

Jeff GreenbergWhat common thread unites Moscow’s subway system with Las Vegas’ Blue Man Group and a Nebraska sushi restaurant? They all use jumbo video walls powered by Hiperwall, a UCI-spawned software system that makes multiple TV screens behave like one giant display. Founded in 2008, Hiperwall was spun off from UCI research funded by the National Science Foundation. The company’s CEO is Jeff Greenberg, whose resume includes previous management stints at Toshiba, Canon and Westinghouse, as well as a master’s degree in computer science from UCI. His partners, who invented the technology, are Stephen Jenks, formerly an assistant professor of electrical engineering & computer science at UCI, and Sung-Jin Kim, who earned a Ph.D. in electrical & computer engineering at UCI. Greenberg says Hiperwall’s product is simpler to operate and up to 50 percent cheaper than traditional hardware-based video wall systems. His clients include universities, power companies and foreign intelligence agencies. One of the most unusual Hiperwall installations runs alongside a moving walkway at Brussels Airport in Belgium, where incoming international passengers can wave at infrared images of themselves on a 48-foot video display. The heat-sensing cameras help airport officials detect passengers with fevers and pull them aside for possible quarantine.

Jeffrey Maganis ’07, economics

Jeffrey MaganisImagine having a power outlet in your purse, briefcase or – if you’re camping in the wilderness – backpack. Pocket-sized power packs that can fire up everything from laptops to hair dryers are among the gadgets offered by, the brainchild of UCI alum Jeffrey Maganis. The company also peddles cellphone charging kiosks that help coffee shops, restaurants and retailers lure customers whose mobile devices need some juice. “Our mission is to allow people to power anything, anywhere,” Maganis says. With 20,000 cellphone charging stations nationwide, his client roster includes McDonald’s, Whole Foods, Harrah’s, even a church on Wall Street. Maganis, a onetime hedge fund trader who grew up in Long Beach, caught the entrepreneurial bug while studying economics at UCI and selling refurbished iPods and iPhones from his Vista del Campo apartment.

Jennifer Friend ’95, criminology, law & society, social ecology

Jennifer FriendMost people who commission artwork opt for portraits. Alumna Jennifer Friend commissioned a life-size cheap motel room, complete with frayed carpet, nondescript furniture and an electric coffeemaker. Titled “214 Square Feet,” the touring installation is intended to illustrate the plight of Orange County children whose cash-strapped families are forced to live out of motels. Friend knows the struggles of motel kids firsthand. As a teen, her own family fell on hard times and bounced from motel room to motel room. She eventually became a successful civil attorney but didn’t lose touch with her past. In 2012, Friend gave up her partnership in a large law firm to run Project Hope Alliance, which assists homeless O.C. students and their families with academic programs and financial aid. Since then, the charity has expanded from serving 65 students at one school to 300 children at 85 campuses. It has also helped 129 families escape the motel cycle by giving them enough money to cover the rent and security deposit needed to land an apartment.

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