From Napa to Stanford: Victor Chen’s Journey Fueled by the Dave Smith Scholarship

Victor Chen, 18, smiles wearing a bright red shirt that reads" Stanford Class of 2027"

Stanford University’s admit weekend was in full swing, and Victor Chen was soaking up the college experience when he got the exciting news: he’d been awarded a scholarship from one of Napa Valley Community Foundation’s scholarship funds. The news turned his exciting weekend—one where he got to immerse himself in the potential of his future college life—into an unforgettable one.

“It was one of the most memorable moments of my life, to be honest,” shares Victor. “I was so excited to call my mom and share the news.”

Victor is a multi-talented student, with a passion for technology and music. A future computer science major, Victor hopes to specialize in AI—a tool he’s already put to good use in the Napa community. Last year, for his Eagle Scout project, Victor piloted a drone to survey a 2-mile stretch of the Napa River from Trancas to Lincoln and developed a computer vision model to identify and categorize trash. Using the AI data, Victor worked with the Napa Resource Conservation District (RCD) to coordinate a trash cleanup day.

On Earth Day in 2022, guided by his data, Victor led 43 volunteers in a cleanup activity where they collected 173 pounds of trash, 171 pounds of recycling, and 54 pounds of compost from the River.

With projects like this—and internships at Stony Brook University and Napa Valley Unified School District’s Office of Information Technology—it would be easy to assume that Victor’s passion for computers keeps him too busy for outside activities.

But Victor lights up when he talks about music and his participation in Vintage High School’s school band and color guard. And he’s planning to continue stretching his creative spirit at Stanford where he hopes to find time to play music, and maybe even join a K-pop dance troupe. “I’ve never really done dance before!” he shares. But what better moment than college to continue growing and trying new things?

Victor’s path to college stems from hard work and a determined spirit. What does getting into Stanford mean for him? “It feels like a dream come true. I’ve been working hard since middle school,” he says, “and now I’m seeing it pay off.”

Earning college acceptance was only the first challenge; affording it presented another. Victor credits Vintage High School’s guidance counselor with helping him find out about NVCF’s scholarship opportunities. One significant opportunity came in the form of the Dave Smith Scholarship Fund. Established last year, Victor is one of the first awardees.

Dave Smith, who passed away last June at the age of 72, was an innovator and a visionary in the field of electronic music. After graduating from UC Berkeley with an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degree in 1971, he combined his engineering skills with his love of music, sparking a 50-year career designing synthesizers. His most famous invention was the Prophet 5, the first musical instrument with microprocessors and programmable memory, which forever changed the course of music history.

In addition, Dave also led the development of the MIDI protocol, a digital interface allowing instruments to communicate with one another, earning him a Technical Grammy in 2013. A San Francisco native and resident of St. Helena for over 30 years, Dave deeply loved the Napa Valley. Following his death, his wife Denise, and children Haley and Campbell established a scholarship fund in his honor to support students like Victor whose passions mirror Dave’s.

In Victor, the spirit of innovation that marked Dave Smith’s life continues to thrive. As he embarks on his journey at Stanford, supported by the scholarship fund, we are looking forward to what’s to come, for Victor and for the many promising students this fund will surely support in the future.


About Victor:

Name: Victor Chen

Graduating from: Vintage High School

Age: 18

College: Stanford University, class of 2027

Major: Computer Science with a specialization in Artificial Intelligence

He’s looking forward to: dorm life, meeting new people, and expanding his horizons

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