Hitting His Stride—In Athletics and Academics
University of Maryland computer science major Maxwell Myers knows what it takes to be a winner. From the day he joined the track team as a freshman at Howard High School in Ellicott City, Md., Myers dedicated himself to working hard and building his confidence, running race after race with a commitment to keep getting faster. One of his proudest moments was breaking his own personal record at the 2018 Maryland outdoor state championship.
“That race was the culmination of everything I had worked for in track and field and it was one of the most surreal moments in my life,” Myers reflected. “I always dreamed of running under 50 seconds in the 400 but was never able to successfully do it until that day, and just being able to finally do it at the biggest meet of the year was an unreal moment for me.”
But Myers’ success story at UMD goes way beyond athletics. The same commitment to hard work and self-improvement that makes Myers a winner on the track also helped him conquer the challenges of computer science.
“To be successful, I think the most important thing is believing in yourself,” Myers explained. “At the collegiate level in athletics, most people have a relatively good work ethic, but what sets people apart is their mentality. I think that changed my perspective and increased my confidence academically because I know if I dedicate myself to something I’ll definitely be able to succeed at it.”
Active in Code: Black and the National Society of Black Engineers, Myers hopes to make a difference not just as a computer scientist but also in the movement to promote diversity in STEM and raise awareness about STEM education and career opportunities. A Barry and Mary Gossett Fellow, Myers co-founded a career-building service called LinkedIn or Left Out, holding seminars for his fellow Terp athletes, UMD organizations and community groups on how to develop impactful resumes and LinkedIn profiles. He also facilitated events for students like “Centering Black Voices in Career Readiness,” a panel discussion on career challenges and opportunities featuring Black professionals.
“My overall goal is to bridge the gap between underprivileged communities and STEM, and I want people to understand their opportunities and how achievable those opportunities are,” Myers said. “The feedback I’ve received from my peers has been great; a lot of them have said they learned a lot of new things and their outlooks on professional life changed as well.”
Looking ahead to his graduation in May, Myers sees his future coming into focus. Thanks to two summer internships with Microsoft, he already landed a full-time job at the company’s Seattle headquarters after graduation.
“My sophomore to junior year I did an Explorer internship, which is half product management and half software engineering, and then I chose the software engineering track this past summer,” Myers said. “I got a return offer to come back as a full-time software engineer after I graduate, and I’m really excited about that.”
Driven to be successful
From his early years to his college years, Myers’ strongest role models have always been his parents—his father worked in the Department of Education and his mother’s career put her on the business side of IT at companies like Verizon and Kaiser Permanente.
“Career-wise, I look up to my mother and the success that she has had and want to emulate that in my life,” Myers explained. “From my dad, I think about the grueling determination and work ethic he had that supported our family. Out of everyone in my life, they have the strongest influence over my current drive to be great and be successful.”
In high school, Myers made his mark as a track athlete. A state champion for the indoor 500 meters, he broke record after record and was named Howard County Indoor Athlete of the Year in 2019. Thanks to his parents’ encouragement and scholarship support from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, his church and others, Myers eventually charted a course toward UMD.
At his parents’ suggestion, he majored in computer science, though at first the challenges of the major seemed almost insurmountable.
“Initially I struggled a lot with the confidence that I needed to succeed within computer science,” Myers recalled. “I was like, calculus is too hard, computer science is too hard, and I didn’t see many people that looked like me. I just wasn’t sure I could do it.”
Support from one of his computer science teaching assistants (TAs) helped Myers find his way.
“Aaron Kyei-Asare—he’s another Black guy—was my TA for CMSC 131 and just having someone that I could relate to was the biggest thing ever,” Myers recalled. “Whenever I was unable to grasp a concept, he would stay after class with me and re-explain stuff I didn’t understand. He made the whole process approachable and it made me more confident, and I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.’”
Myers soon discovered that mastering the challenges of computer science was a lot like training on the track: determination, hard work and time could change everything.
“I’d kind of get discouraged when I was in my freshman and sophomore years but then I’d think about how much time I’ve put into running. I think about how a race against a normal person would go versus running against someone in elite competition who’s been practicing and practicing,” Myers explained. “That kind of perspective made me understand I can pretty much conquer anything as long as I put the time and effort that’s necessary into it.”
Balancing athletics and academics
Though keeping up with his courses in computer science and training for the Maryland track team sometimes pushed his college schedule to the limit, Myers discovered some unexpected benefits as well.
“Even though athletics added a lot more to my plate it also helped me keep everything in balance,” Myers said. “Whenever I’m stressed out from a class or a test and I go out on the track and exercise and my stress levels go down. When you’re going through something difficult, exercise tends to make the whole experience better.”
Now, as a senior, Myers finds that the challenges of both athletics and academics keep him motivated.
“I’ve always been someone who likes being challenged in a mentally stimulating way,” he explained. “The whole process of computer science makes you think in a way that you wouldn’t normally think and mastering that is good exercise for your brain. That’s something that’s really stuck with me.”
As Myers looks forward to graduation and his next opportunity at Microsoft, the success of his LinkedIn or Left Out program and the career events he initiated for UMD students also inspire him to expand on his personal commitment to promoting diversity and expanding awareness of education and career opportunities in STEM. It’s a mission he’s committed to continuing in the years ahead.
“One of my goals is to start a nonprofit where I can assist underprivileged communities within STEM and specifically computer science,” Myers explained. “Eventually the goal is to be able to create an entire curriculum or network that can help students who are trying to get into fields like computer science the way I did. I definitely want to make that happen.”
Written by Leslie Miller
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