SCS Sophomores Share Their CMU Firsts: Semesters, Years and Experiences

Trevor Arashiro

When we last spoke to School of Computer Science students Trevor Arashiro, Chris Choi, Lauren Morgenthaler, and Peter Wu, they were first-years, entirely new to the undergraduate computer science program, the city of Pittsburgh, and most importantly, college. Last fall, these talented students provided insightful snapshots of their first semesters in the School of Computer Science. Now — with a year of college under their belts — they're back with more.

Trevor Arashiro

"The most memorable SCS experience I had my freshman year was building my 15-112 term project. The project simulated the Wean elevators, finding the most efficient algorithm for picking people up. It exposed me to just how complicated elevators were, despite originally thinking that I could write a simulated one in less than 200 lines of code.

"Back in high school, my CS classes didn't teach me much, but the courses here provided me with everything I could handle and then some. I learned that there were some classes I wasn't at the top or middle of, but instead was at the dead bottom. Freshman year truly taught me what it means to be an SCS student, and the responsibility it carries.

"Something I'd tell my freshman-year self is what I would tell every incoming freshman: don't start slacking on your work. A lot of things are different from high school, and there's a lot less external motivation pushing you to do your work. Self-discipline is a must, and deadlines are DEADLINES. Which means even 10 seconds after the deadline, the assignment is still late!"

Chris Choi

Chris Choi

"Freshman year was a big bag of mixed emotions. It was no doubt one of the most difficult years of my life so far. I've never been more challenged intellectually than I have been in the School of Computer Science, but regardless, getting through freshman year was truly a humbling experience. I became less hesitant about reaching out for help, and learned to accept that I wasn't going to be able to handle things on my own like I did before I came to CMU.

"The most memorable experience from my freshman year was becoming a part of the RadPiper team under Fredkin University Research Professor William 'Red' Whittaker. When I received the key to the Field Robotics Center, I was taken back to when I visited CMU as a high schooler, saw the center for the first time and decided, 'This is where I belong.' While working on RadPiper, a pipe-crawling robot developed at CMU, I finally got to dip my feet into the real world of robotics. I also had the pleasure of meeting brilliant grad students and staff working on this project, and am continuing to work in nuclear robotics this semester. This time, I'm tackling feature detection.

"One of the biggest pieces of advice I would give my freshman-year self would be to always be open and ask for help from peers and professors, as they are almost always more than happy to help. During my freshman year, I often felt drained due to a schedule loaded with computer science courses. This semester, I'm happy with my schedule, and with fewer pre-reqs, I can take my first robotics course and an Improv StuCo. As I expand my horizons beyond CS, I am excited for what is to come in my CMU journey!"

Lauren Morgenthaler

Lauren Morgenthaler

"My first semester of college was actually pretty interesting. Toward the end of the semester, I realized that I urgently needed to get reconstructive knee surgery. After deliberation with my academic advisor, Jacobo Carrasquel, I decided to withdraw from all of my courses and go home to California for surgery and recovery. I retook the same classes during my second semester of freshman year, and while I was hesitant with this decision at first, I think retaking the courses was the right option for multiple reasons. I found that retaking these fundamental courses actually helped me build a better foundation for my other math and computer science courses to come. All material in SCS really builds upon itself, so if you're having trouble understanding some fundamental concepts, the more complex concepts will be a lot harder to understand. In the end, I'm extremely grateful for how everything turned out as I am now healthy and doing well in school!

"Rather than pursuing internships this past summer, I decided to study abroad. I lived in Florence, Italy, for a month and a half, and pursued interests outside of computer science. I studied art and graphic illustration and art history, and learned a bit of Italian, too! After my academic pursuits, I took the rest of the summer to backpack around Europe and also visit Seoul.

"To my freshman self, I would say to work hard, but also enjoy your time here. The program itself might seem stressful, but it's important to take a deep breath every once in a while and realize that this is one of the greatest undergraduate programs in the nation, and possibly the world, for computer science. The resources here for learning and pursuing specific interests within computer science are endless, so take the time to take advantage of these opportunities and to find the joy in what you're studying — that's the only way to get through this program."

Peter Wu

Peter Wu

"So many amazing things happened during my freshman year that it went by fast. If I had to choose one though, it would be getting permission to hack the Randy Pausch bridge, and seeing students at our Scottylabs workshop create awesome light shows. I also had the chance to chat with a high volume of big companies. CMU hosts a lot of talks (Tech Talks, Let's Talk, TOC, etc.), and I've found them to be great opportunities to exchange ideas with and learn more about numerous employers in the field of computer science."

"I spent my summer here in Pittsburgh, researching under SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships). I worked with Ameet Talwalkar, assistant professor in machine learning, to help build a platform for a new machine learning paradigm. I really enjoyed the freedom of building a project from the ground up, while diving into areas I'm really excited about in the process.

"Overall, I think the most valuable lesson for me last year was how unexpected some things in life, both relating to school and even outside of it, could be. I've definitely learned how to better handle Murphy's Law — 'Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,' — in the past year! That being said, it feels great to be back on campus, and I look forward to meeting more students who are passionate about what they do here at CMU!"

Susie Cribbs | 412-268-4482 | cribbs@cs.cmu.edu