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Above, Austin Thompson ’18 near the SUNY-Albany campus. Below, with Tenzin Khunkhyen ’18 (right) during the “Fishackathon” competition, where they came up with the idea for “Aqua Bob.”

Local Student Begins Road to Success at MCLA

06/14/17

As a youth growing up in North Adams, Mass., Austin Thompson ’18, a self-described “small-town guy,” quickly learned that he could control the direction his life would take. MCLA is helping him to achieve his dreams through some “great opportunities that I’m not sure I would’ve experienced anywhere else.”

As a high school student, “I tried really hard,” Thompson said, “and enrolled in college during my senior year with the help of my mother.” Originally, he attended Westfield State University, where he studied communications. “They had a web/graphic design concentration, and I had been making websites for fun since I was 14.”

However, after his mother lost her job during his third semester, he had to withdraw from college. Back in North Adams, he found work as a grill cook and a produce clerk. For nearly two months, he worked between 50 to 60 hours a week. With only one day off each week, and at times putting in 12-hour days, he found the situation to be extremely difficult.

Everything changed; however, after he decided to enroll at MCLA – this time opting to major in computer science. “Since then, I've excelled with a dual concentration in both software engineering and information technology,” Thompson said.

Beyond the classroom, he and Tenzin Khunkhyen ’18 are developing “Aqua Bob,” an Internet-connected device that works to eliminate the problem of “ghost fishing” – which happens when people lose or abandon fishing gear. The lost equipment negatively affects already-depleted commercial fish stocks. “Aqua Bob” works to bring the lost fishing equipment to the surface, where it may be found via a tracking unit.

The idea for “Aqua Bob” came to them after they participated last year in a fishing industry-focused “Fishackathon,” which was hosted by Greenwave, Patagonia Provisions, and the U.S. State Department.

According to Thompson, “Everyone from fishermen, aquatic engineers and environmental officials have all said that if our idea would function the way we have pitched it, the adoption of the Aqua Bob system would easily become widely accepted due to its simplistic nature.”

He has enjoyed his academic experience at MCLA.

“I have been challenged in my classes, given professional IT experience by working at the Help Desk on campus, participated in Hackathons/Tech Meet Ups, been a finalist in a highly competitive entrepreneurship competition, and just generally have had a good time. “

Thompson takes full advantage of his professors’ office hours, and asks a lot of questions. “Working as closely with my professors as I do, especially those in the computer science department, has taught me many skills that have been critical to our success.”

Currently serving an internship at Crane Currency in Dalton, Mass., as an IT specialist, Thompson hopes to continue that type of work after he graduates, or to find a position in software development.

Although he’s not exactly sure where he will end up, “I have interviewed with development firms around the area, such as Drive Dominion and General Dynamics, and have been offered multiple job opportunities,” he said.