Alumnus Newton Lee envisions a future with universal rights for all
Virginia Tech alumnus Newton Lee is a firm believer in the importance of education, research, and scholarships.
From his personal experiences, he is deeply committed and passionate about making sure others have access to these opportunities. In 2004, he created a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, aptly named Institute for Education, Research, and Scholarships (IFERS).
The award-winning California-based public charity organization is dedicated to improving society by conducting scientific and social research. Its ultimate goal is to create a better world with lasting peace, prosperity, and universal rights for all.
If this sounds a little like Star Trek, you would not be totally off base.
Lee likens his own personal “leap of faith” of leaving his homeland of Hong Kong to study in the United States to the mantra of Star Trek, which encourages people “to explore strange new worlds and to seek out new life and new civilizations.
Author, Educator, and Futurist
Currently, IFERS is engaged in 55 active projects, involving a team of project directors, ambassadors, volunteers, and support staff in the United States and worldwide. They are dedicated to such efforts as computer games for students, providing college scholarships for women, and supporting dedicated research for Type 1 diabetes, autism, and more recently human immune system rejuvenation.
"While medical researchers are currently toiling on COVID-19 cures and vaccines, we have been supporting research on human immune system rejuvenation to fight all diseases including cancer, antibiotics-resistant superbugs, and coronavirus," said Lee. His book The Transhumanism Handbook was the number one preventive medicine new release on Amazon for four months.
IFERS-supported research is taking a software engineering approach to not only combating COVID-19 but a litany of other diseases. "Vaccines are effective only if there is a sufficient quantity of healthy and functional T cells in the human body," cited Lee. The immune system rejuvenation team led by Dr. Greg Fahy at Intervene Immune has successfully completed Phase 1 clinical trial and is currently running an FDA-approved Phase 2 clinical trial to regenerate the thymus for producing healthy T cells in the human body.
The thymus immune system approach to coronavirus is particularly promising because years ago in 2012, Virginia Tech scientists Thomas E. Cecere, S. Michelle Todd, and Tanya LeRoith had discovered that the induction of regulatory T cells in coronaviral infections protects against the more severe forms of the disease.
"We want to apply science and technology to create an affordable and accessible solution for everyone to live a long and healthy life," said Lee, citing all of the different aspects of computer science that would be employed: artificial intelligence, big data analytics, computer simulation, video games, augmented/virtual/mixed reality, and human-machine symbiosis.
Virginia Tech was in fact the place where the intersection of computer science and medicine/pharmacology happened as it was part of his bachelor's thesis. He earned both a bachelor’s (‘84) and master’s (‘85) in computer science with a focus on artificial intelligence, supporting himself with teaching and research assistantships.
A self-proclaimed futurist, Lee has made it his job to be forward thinking, intentional, and innovative. Oftentimes being the first to develop new products and opportunities for the company.
After graduation, Lee worked for four years at Bell Laboratories and is credited with the creation of the company’s first-ever commercial artificial intelligence tool. Later, while working for the Virginia Tech Library Systems, he developed the world’s first annotated multimedia online public access catalog for the U.S. National Agricultural Library.
Staying within the same genre of books, Lee went on to serve as a lead software engineer at Media Station, Inc., where he interfaced with Disney, Mattel, Philips, and HarperCollins, just to name a few, for a series of CD-ROM storybook and games. He co-developed 12 best-selling children's titles, including Toy Story, The Lion King Animated Storybook, Pocahontas, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
Finding His Happy Place at Disney
In 1996, Lee began a 10-year stint with The Walt Disney Company serving as senior staff engineer and senior producer. While working at Walt Disney Animations, he founded Disney Online Technology Forum, an online community of resources and conversations with monthly meetups at Disney offices in Los Angeles.
He was active in Disney's employee volunteer program (VoluntEARS), earning four project leadership awards. The mission of Disney VoluntEARS is to provide comfort, happiness, and inspiration to kids and families around the world. He also served as a tennis coach for the Special Olympics and teaching computer science for after-school clubs through the Boys and Girls Club.
During his tenure at Disney, Lee's research expertise and advice for launching STEM-related non-profits was sought after. He had started to work with people all across the globe and interfaced with numerous individuals in the entertainment industry.
A Mission of Giving Back
In 2003, Lee founded the nonprofit Computers in Entertainment, an online academic journal and magazine, published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). During his 15 years as editor-in-chief, the longest term held in the history of ACM, he interviewed entertainment moguls Roy E. Disney and George Lucas. The journal/magazine has published more than 500 peer-reviewed papers with over 2,500-citation count and 500,000 downloads.
Bringing the best of both worlds together, IFERS awarded $15K scholarship awards to three international students at the 2006 American Film Institute, who served as a co-sponsor of the event with ACM. Keynote addresses were made by Quincy Jones and ACM Fellow Alan Kay.
Lee said he considers it a huge honor to have served as the editor-in-chief after being awarded ACM's “Best Master's Thesis in Computer Science and Information System in the States of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C.” in 1985 at Virginia Tech.
In the spirit of giving back, Lee enjoys connecting with fellow Virginia Tech alumni through LinkedIn for professional networking and mentorship.