An Interview with the Computer Science Department Philip Merrill Scholars: Luke Valenta and Graham Welch

Computer science senior undergraduate students Luke Valenta and Graham Welch were named 2013-2014 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars. The Merrill Presidential Scholars Program honors Maryland’s most successful seniors and their University faculty mentors. As a Merrill Presidential Scholar, Luke selected Computer Science department faculty member Fawzi Emad as his university mentor and Graham selected Computer Science department faculty member Dr. Michelle Hugue. We interviewed Luke and Graham to find out more about their interest in computer science and future plans.

Why did you choose to major in computer science?

Luke: I started college at Frostburg State University majoring in Math and Physics. During my time there, I took my first computer science class, which was a requirement for the physics major. I was always interested in computers after playing video games as a kid, but I didn’t really understand them. After I took the computer science course and learned a little bit about how to program, I realized that I could understand how computers worked and I was very interested in learning more. When I transferred to UMD, I knew that we had a good computer science program and I decided to pursue computer science!

Graham: My mom is a computer scientist and I liked building things when I was little. I liked that I could use programming to control all the different parts of something. I could build whatever I wanted without having to actually purchase any hardware. I started taking computer science courses in high school. During my freshman year I learned visual basic and I later I took Java programming. During my high school courses I created a battleship game and an open-source matchmaking game with some of my classmates. These experiences led me to pursue computer science as my major in college.


How did you meet the university mentor you honored during the Philip Merrill Award?

Luke: Fawzi Emad was my professor in CMSC132, the first computer science course I took at UMD. He was a very good professor. He was excited about the material and kept everyone engaged. Taking Mr. Emad’s course was what made me sure I wanted to pursue computer science.

Graham: I took CMSC411 and CMSC420 with Michelle Hugue. Dr. Hugue gave interesting lectures and ensured that everyone had a chance to complete the projects. She was always willing to connect you with someone who could help you. She is a very fair teacher. Through her classes I became more involved with all aspects of coding including source control. It was very helpful to have a big project to talk about during interviews and to learn about data structures.


What internships and other activities did you pursue while at UMD?

Luke: I pursued research with Bobby Bhattacharjee, Dave Levin and Neil Spring. My project focused on ALIBI routing which is a technique to avoid network censorship by routing traffic in such a way that it is possible to prove that traffic was never routed through a forbidden region of the network.

Graham: I was on the Crew team here at UMD. I was a teaching assistant for CMSC132 and CMSC420. I interned with B-Line in DC and Microsoft.


What are your plans after graduation?

Luke: I am in the process of applying to computer science Ph.D. programs. I plan to continue my research in networking.

Graham: I have accepted a role as a Software Engineer with Google in Seattle, WA.


By Elissa Redmiles.

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