Students in a conference room working on a project

Realistic projects, engaged faculty prepare students for the future

Computer science majors hone their skills through coursework that includes a team-based capstone class.
Tyler Thompson developed tools to succeed with the support of accomplished faculty.

Tyler Thompson was concerned about transferring from community college to Penn State Abington, but a phone call from Vinayak Elangovan, associate professor of computer science and program chair, convinced him he was up for the challenge. 

“Vinayak is the most incredible person, and a lot of other faculty and staff supported me and believed in me when I transferred to Abington,” he said. 

Dr. Elangovan and others made him aware of opportunities to hone his professional skills. Two experiences - one required, one optional - open to computer science majors broadened and deepened his expertise. 

Capstone Project

The second experience that helps computer science majors prepare for the professional world is the required capstone course. Tyler served as the project manager on a team of about a dozen students as they developed a secure sensor-powered smart house. 

"When I found out I was going to be the project manager, I was scared to death. But then I realized I was going to work on something I enjoy and love. Sometimes you have to do new things. It might be awkward at first, but it will change your life just like this role did for me,” he said.  

Student and professor stand next to research poster

Penn State Abington student Tyler Thompson presented his work at the annual undergraduate research fair with his faculty mentor Robert Avanzato, associate professor of computer science and engineering.

Credit: Penn State

Undergraduate Research (ACURA) 

Tyler collaborated with Robert Avanzato, associate professor of computer science and engineering, on a project that resulted in a paid summer job in the engineering lab. He took their work a step further by enrolling in the undergraduate research program (ACURA) with Avanzato serving as his mentor. 

“The project involved taking a sonar scanner and trying to find underwater objects using artificial intelligence and neural networks. We tried it out at Lake Nockamixon and Peace Valley Park in Bucks County. It was a lot of fun, and it didn’t feel like work at all,” Tyler said. 

The work, which he presented at the annual undergraduate research fair, utilized hardware and software, which is an unusual pairing for computer science majors. 

“Generally, computer science students don’t get to do both. You usually only work with software, which is one of the things that makes Abington and Dr. Avanzato great because they mix it in,” Tyler, who plans to  launch his career in embedded systems and robotics, said. 

Tyler urges students to dive into undergraduate research and capstone projects because they differentiate you from other candidates during a job search. 

“It’s beneficial to include these projects on your resume because companies like that you took that extra step; you went above and beyond. Bob Avanzato made me so confident in my abilities that now I feel certain I can do anything,” he said.

Tyler encourages other students to develop relationships within the campus community. 

“The professors at Abington set you up so well to work in the real world, and they gave me everything that I needed to succeed,” he said. 

“Don’t go to class just to get a grade; go out of your way and talk to your professors. They have so much real-world experience, and they can guide you and change your life. Penn State Abington really is a blessing,” Tyler said.