Axel S. Toro Vega shares his experiences since being recognized at the 2020 CSTA Virtual Conference, getting funding for CS projects, and how he packed extra sweaters for his move from Puerto Rico (BR) to Boston.
This month, we speak with Axel S. Toro Vega, who was awarded the CSTA/ACM Cutler-Bell Prize in the spring of 2020. Axel was a part of the Computer Science Honor Society in Puerto Rico and is now attending Boston University (BU). He shares his experiences since being recognized at the 2020 CSTA Virtual Conference, getting funding for CS projects, and how he packed extra sweaters for his move from Puerto Rico (BR) to Boston.
Can you share what your experience has been with attending college during the pandemic?
Firstly, the shift from high school to university has been very different than I expected; I learned that I have to do a lot more time management to prepare for the week. At Boston University, I spent most of my time on campus, with being in class around 25% of the time until the American Thanksgiving. Interestingly, at BU, a laboratory was developed to process results of COVID-19 tests, with a 24-hour turnaround. Students were tested every 72 hours.
Moving from PR to Boston seems challenging. Have you been able to find community and space with the transition?
One of the most significant changes was dealing with climate! The lowest temperature in Puerto Rico was around 65 F, and in Boston, the weather varies so much here. As for finding community, BU has a large international population, and I’ve met a lot of other students from PR here, surprisingly.
Around this time last year, you applied for the CSTA/ACM Cutler-Bell Prize; what hesitations did you have with the application?
I recall being incredibly intimated by the essay components of the prizes. My suggestion to students is to focus on your project, describing it, and the ultimate goal/problem you tried to achieve. Don’t get caught up in the details! You most likely already have a CS project you have created that could be submitted for this award.
How did you first get interested in computer science?
In 7th grade, I started to get interested; I had my first spark through my brother’s science fair project which involved MATLAB (here’s a nice MATLAB course). There was no CS class in my middle school, but my brother was in a newly made technology club – I was able to learn more about CS through it. I just started taking some Scratch courses and started investing. When I got into high school, I got involved in the club, and I started my CS journey the first year I was in the club.
What advice would you share with students involved or interested in CS?
Always take on challenges. To learn and overcome was an essential part of my computer science journey. When I realized I didn’t know how to start something, I used my network and resources like CSTA or Code.org to find answers. For my first project, I didn’t have a distance sensor, and my friend Diego let me borrow one. Being part of a Computer Science Honor Society has also helped support me in finding opportunities and scholarships. It can be a slow path to learn and invest in yourself, but it’s a rewarding experience to make a difference in your community with CS. Participating in hackathons is also a great way to get involved and gain experience in many different CS areas aimed to solve real-world problems.
Can you share insight with CS teachers on what might help them recruit students to their CS classes or programs?
What worked well was at our CSHS, was we showcased projects and events throughout the year to plant interest and get awareness. In the spring, many students at my school were incredibly interested in the projects we were doing, like the Hour of Code. I would also add that students are interested in opportunities for funding, scholarships, and how certain classes or a society would help them move forward in college.
How are you staying connected to the CS community?
I’m involved in the BU High Performing Club, as well as in a Society for Professional Engineers. In one of my engineering classes, programming was introduced and it was the first time other students experienced it. Having my experience in CS, I was actually able to support other students, and am applying to be a Teaching Assistant in an upcoming year. I also work at the Automated Design and Manufacturing Lab at Boston University’s EPIC, I’m helping to develop a Manufacturing Execution System.
Have you experienced inequity?
Being in Puerto Rico, one of the main problems was finding funding and support for our society and projects to help our community after last year’s earthquake, especially for public schools.
Last year, we created the DCG Seismic Alert Network, thanks to funding from CSTA. DCG Seismic Alert Network can be reached at https://dcg.edu.pr/shake.
What is your hope for CS teachers?
That they continue to be an advocate for their students.
Find some inspiration for projects at https://www.hackster.io.
Some of my projects at https://devpost.com/AxelSariel.