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Computer Science Student: Learning Transcends the Classroom

01/27/16

Richard Chiu ’16 is ready to graduate this May – not only because of the coursework he’s completed, but due to the opportunities MCLA provided him to learn about computers and technology that extend beyond the classroom.

During his first semester on campus, Chiu landed a job at the MCLA Computer Help Desk, a position he continues to hold. In addition, he was invited to participate in two internships offered by the College.

Shortly after Commencement, he’ll move on to his first job as a software developer at General Dynamics, a global defense company in his hometown of nearby Pittsfield, Mass.

Chiu decided to major in computer science because computers fascinate him.

“They’re magical machines that have revolutionized society. Computers guided Apollo 11 to the moon, advanced medicine by finding cures for diseases, and even changed the way we learn,” he said. “My favorite parts of computer science are the puzzles. They’re fun, challenging and very rewarding when you achieve the ‘Aha!’ moment after struggling to solve a problem.

 “The most challenging and exciting part of computer science is its dynamic nature,” Chiu added. “Technology is constantly evolving, and there is always something new to learn.”

For example, his senior project is a mobile application that performs protein alignments. “The goal of the program is to help researchers quickly find a potential model organism to study a protein on,” Chiu explained.

For his first internship, Chiu helped to analyze several years’ worth of Admissions data in search of a pattern that would help to predict whether a student will enroll after being accepted. He worked with MCLA’s administrative systems during his second internship, to develop and test a potentially new document approval workflow solution.

These internships allowed him to assess his strengths and his weaknesses. “I gained confidence in what I do know, while realizing what I should focus more on.”

Although as a youth Chiu dreamed of becoming a video game developer, when he got to MCLA, a professor introduced him to bioinformatics.

“I was intrigued by the thought that the power of computers could be used to help solve biological problems,” he explained. “Although I won’t be in the bioinformatics field after graduation, I do plan on earning a Ph.D. down the road, and will hopefully return to bioinformatics someday.”

A relatively new field, bioinformatics uses computational techniques to help analyze and understand biological data.

“Biologists have amassed a staggering amount of data, and bioinformaticists can take advantage of computational technology to analyze it,” Chiu explained. “Computers are very powerful tools that can be programmed to accomplish virtually anything. They are fast and don’t mind tedious and repetitive tasks; in fact, they are perfect candidates for this type of work.”

According to Chiu, he’s enjoyed a great academic experience at MCLA.

“Class sizes are small. That allows for a more interactive learning experience. My professors cared about my progress; they took the time to help me succeed in class and even gave me advice for the future,” he said.

However, the best part of MCLA is its community: “My success here has been built upon the support of my classmates and amazing professors. Without them, I would not have had the drive to push my boundaries.”