New Abington graduate appreciates detours on the road to his degree

Portrait of student

Tyler Thompson earned a degree in computer science from Penn State Abington this weekend. During his academic career, he gained experiences in undergraduate research and as the project manager in a required capstone course.

Credit: Lisa Morris

ABINGTON, Pa. — Tyler Thompson has come a long way since he started college in 2018. He said he quickly found himself “feeling like a number” and battling personal issues. His grade point average suffered, and he was placed on academic warning, so Thompson moved home to Bucks County, went to work at a local supermarket and enrolled in community college. 

Fast forward to spring 2024, and Thompson graduated from Penn State Abington this weekend with a degree in computer science. Recently, he sat down and reflected on the detours he navigated to earn his degree.  

Although the word of mouth about Abington was strong and the tuition made sense financially, it was hard for him to recommit to college full time. But a phone call with Vinayak Elangovan, the program chair for the computer science major, convinced Thompson that he was ready for the challenge. 

“Vinayak is the most incredible person, and there are a lot of other faculty and staff who went to bat for me and supported me. They believed in me when I promised that I wasn’t going to get less than 'As' in my courses,” said Thompson, who enrolled at Abington in the fall 2022. 

Although he was clearly motivated, he readily accepted support from Chris Walters, senior coordinator for student success. 

“A key to Tyler’s success was returning with the right mindset and attitude. He took full advantage of all the resources available to him to the betterment of his experience and success,” Walters said. 

Walters set Thompson up with Lisa Morris, an assistant teaching professor of criminal justice who volunteered to be his academic success coach. The academic success coaches are faculty and staff who offer to support students who may need extra guidance.

“Tyler's ambition to graduate was apparent through his positive ‘can do’ attitude," she said. "He discovered his passion within the captivating realm of the computer science major and delved deep into his studies. Our regular meetings revolved around important matters like course choices, internships, his involvement in the ACURA project and, of course, his impending graduation. ... Serving as Tyler's success coach was a profoundly fulfilling opportunity to forge a meaningful connection with a student who knows there's someone on campus genuinely cheering them on."

Thompson said he is grateful for Morris, Walters and a string of professors and staffers who checked in with him along the way.  

“They acted as my advisers and notified me of deadlines and things so I could keep focusing on getting good grades," he said. "I could not have done it without all these people who helped make my journey at Abington incredible. They took me in and supported me. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate them so much."

Thompson is moving to Florida this summer and looking to launch his career in a software-related position in embedded systems and robotics. He encouraged other students to develop relationships with people in the Abington campus community. 

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

Thompson said he knew he wanted to major in computer science, a field he’s been enamored with since childhood, and two experiences at Abington have broadened and deepened his expertise. 

He connected with Robert Avanzato, an associate professor of computer science and engineering, and they collaborated on a project that resulted in a paid summer job in an engineering lab and participation in the undergraduate research program, known as ACURA

“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,” Thompson said. 

The project, which he presented at the annual undergraduate research fair, combined hardware and software, which Thompson said is unusual. 

“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 Bob Avanzato great because they mix it in,” he said. 

The second experience that Thompson said will clearly benefit his career is the required capstone course for the computer science major. He served as the project manager for a team of about a dozen students that developed a secure sensor-powered smart house during their last semester. 

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

Thompson urged students to consider undergraduate research and projects like capstones because they can 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, and 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. “The professors at Abington set you up so well to work in the real world, and they give you such good advice. They really gave me everything that I needed to succeed."

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 25 majors, accelerated master's degrees, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.