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First-year files: the world is your oyster

May 17th, 2023

The signs of May are all around us: prom, Derby, graduation, oh my! This time of your life is filled with excitement and of course I want you to soak it all in. Yet, it can be easy to get distracted and lose focus on what’s most important. My advice is to keep your head down and finish strong.

When the busyness slows, what are your plans for the months ahead? No matter your year in high school, it’s important to maximize your summer plans. Whether your summer involves a job, travel, coursework, research, or internship, draw as much from the experience as possible. This will not only reflect well on your college applications but, even more importantly, you’ll learn a great deal about yourself and the world around you.

In today’s edition of First-year files, Luisa M., a previous Shrop Ed advisee, shares her experience at University of Texas Austin. Luisa recognizes opportunity and doesn’t let it slip by. I am thoroughly impressed with her open mind; she is proof that with hard work comes great opportunity. We’re grateful to Luisa for her willingness to share and wish her much continued success!

I don’t think it’s possible to over exaggerate my experiences this year at UT Austin. Choosing to be a Turing Scholar, in the Computer Science Honors Program, was probably the best decision I could’ve made.

My classes here are very CS-heavy. Turing Scholars take Data Structures and Computer Architecture in their freshman year, and Operating Systems in their sophomore fall. These are classes that are usually taken as juniors and seniors in other colleges. The workload is pretty high, and it’s not uncommon to walk up into the dorm attic at 4:00 a.m. and find it taken over by your classmates, still coding away. Projects in Data Structures were fun, and a test of how many all-nighters one could pull (though I never pulled any). I thought some of our coolest projects were Web Crawler (the thing that search engines like Google use to find and index web pages) and Tetris. I’m currently taking Comp Arch in the spring, where we designed a programming language and wrote a compiler for it in the third week of class! Needless to say, the CS education here does not disappoint.

My classmates are all incredible, and I’m learning so much from them. Two of them made an AI for Tetris that got to several million pieces playing 10 hours straight. Another made and released an open-world video game, where you explore a world and go on quests. Though half of my class were Platinum-Tier USACO, USAMO qualifiers, or something else equally insane, I fell into the category of my class that had much less experience in computer science. I don’t feel out of place, though. The environment here is so supportive, with classmates and TAs all willing to help. And after all, we’re all here to learn something new.

There are just so many incredible opportunities offered at this school. Texas Robotics, where I’m an undergraduate researcher, is home to some of the top robotics labs in the country. I’ve gotten to talk with some of the most well-respected people in robotics and machine learning almost on a daily basis. I’ve also programmed robots, trained deep learning models, and gotten to walk a robot dog down Speedway. I’m also getting sponsored to attend ICRA in London, the largest robotics conference in the world, to compete in an international autonomous navigation competition. Being a freshman, I don’t feel there are less opportunities available to me. What opens doors is not academic year or age, but the amount of work you are willing to put in–which is what I love about being here.

Though I’ve had a great school year, I’m very much looking forward to the summer. This summer, I was hired as an intern at NASA. I’ll be working at the Ames Research Center doing research on their trio of robots currently serving on the International Space Station. These Astrobee robots help astronauts perform routine tasks on the ISS, and they’re pretty cute for floating space cubes! I have the amazing support at Texas Robotics and UT to thank for all the opportunities I’ve gotten so far, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.