From Las Cruces to MIT, 2014 Valedictorian uses Ph.D. to start Boston business

Ronald Davis III used to spend his lunch hours while enrolled at Organ Mountain High School (formerly Oñate) eating with his friends and talking about math, chemistry, physics, video games and Pokémon in his calculus teacher's classroom.

Former Organ Mountain teacher Brandon Sprague had just started teaching calculus the year Davis joined his class. Davis, the 2014 valedictorian, had run out of math and physics classes to take at the high school level. He helped Sprague get through the material.

"It's very humbling when a student knows more than a teacher and that occurred often in this case," Sprague said in an email to the Sun-News. "He struggled way less with the material than I did. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times he got something incorrect."

Former Organ Mountain valedictorian Ronald Davis III recently earned his PhD at MIT.
Former Organ Mountain valedictorian Ronald Davis III recently earned his PhD at MIT.

Fast-forward 10 years, and Davis, 27, looks forward to entering the private sector with three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after recently earning a Ph.D.

"I don't think it has fully sunk in yet," Davis said. "It's nice to be able to have more flexibility and be free and start applying everything that I have learned. I have different options to choose from and I think that is exciting."

Davis graduated from MIT in May 2018 with degrees in electrical engineering and physics. The graduate program includes a master's degree and Ph.D., he said. He earned his doctorate with the thesis, 'Combining RF Photonics and RF Machine Learning to Enable New Communications Architectures."

Davis said he developed the thesis during a gap year in 2018 when he worked for an Army Department of Defense research lab.

"The project came out of (a) professor's interest at MIT and Army interest, as well," Davis said. "The Army was interested in machine learning for wireless signals. The MIT interest was optics and lasers. The goal of my Ph.D. machine learning and wireless signals was pretty hefty and requires a ton of power so the goal was to speed it up using laser processors."

Davis said his interest in electrical engineering started in high school because, "you can do the math and apply it and see it happen in reality."

He got off to a slow start relative to his friends in middle school, who were taking advanced math classes. He caught up to and surpassed his friends in high school, where MIT landed on his radar during his sophomore year in high school.

"When I think of a student earning multiple degrees from a school such as MIT along with a Ph.D., I'm blown away that it could come from a small place like Las Cruces," Sprague wrote in the email. "There are so many more populated places with a deeper range of graduating students where somebody as unique as Ronald could come from. But it happened here and that feels pretty special."

What's next for Davis?

Davis and two classmates are further developing the project with the creation of a Boston-based company, VectorWave.

The company is in the early phases, but it's inspired by his doctoral project, building wireless processors to accelerate wireless communications. To prepare for his next career, Davis said he took advantage of entrepreneurship programs at MIT in the last few months.

"It's kind of a middle ground between academia and industry," Davis said. "You have the freedom of thought in academia and the practicalities of building a project of industry. You get the best of both worlds."

While his family is still in Las Cruces and he considers New Mexico home, Davis said he plans to stay in Boston to develop his company.

"I spent the last 10 years inside the MIT bubble, and I have a lot of good memories," Davis said. "It will be nice to get out of the bubble and maybe move into the suburbs and experience something different."

Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or jgroves@lcsun-news.com. Follow him on X @jpgroves.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: 2014 Las Cruces graduate earns Ph.D. from MIT

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