Computer Science is My Superpower

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- Aaron Timmons - Mathematics Content Director

Stephen Parsons may just be a superhero.  He may not be able to fly or have x-ray vision (or does he?), but he certainly has been able to manipulate time to its maximum benefit.  

Stephen was able to complete in four years what many students would need twice as long to do.  Graduating from the University of Kentucky in 2016, Parsons left with degrees in Computer Science and International Studies and multiple minors in Spanish, physics, and math.  He did all this while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.  In addition, Stephen was involved with Tau Beta Pi, The Chellgren Center Student Fellows Program, and The Gaines Fellowship in the Humanities Program.  He spent the summer of 2015 working as an Associate Product Manger intern at Google in San Francisco and followed that up with a semester in Cusco, Peru studying Spanish and the local environment and its development. 

Stephen ParsonsSo just how did Stephen find the time to do all this?  When asked, Stephen gave a lot of credit to his time in high school – “Taking AP math, science, and English classes in high school gave me a tremendous advantage in college.  Firstly, I was prepared for the style of the coursework and was able to do very well in my classes.  Second, I was able to skip over many of the core requirements and prerequisites and jump right into classes that interested me.  This would have made it possible to complete a degree program in three years or less.  As I was fortunate to receive a very generous scholarship [the Otis A. Singletary Scholarship], I wanted to stay all four years to get as much as possible out of my time in school.  As a result, I was able to complete two degree programs with multiple minors, get involved in a wide variety of organizations, and generally felt that I could explore whatever I found interesting. This sort of freedom at a large institution like UK allowed me to find many interesting people and find ways of building my own experience. It made my time in college more fulfilling and has been very helpful to me since then.” 

Parsons graduated from Lexington, Kentucky’s Bryan Station High School in 2012 as the valedictorian.  During this time, Bryan Station was part of AdvanceKentucky’s College Readiness Program, a statewide initiative of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, aimed at dramatically expanding access to and success in rigorous coursework to enable students to pursue advanced college and career pathways, particularly among student populations traditionally underrepresented in these courses.  AdvanceKentucky does this, in part, by providing student incentives and additional time on task through the facilitation of intense Saturday content review sessions.  Says Parsons, “I am very grateful for Bryan Station's involvement with AdvanceKentucky while I was a high school student, and it ended up being a huge asset to me. The payments for qualifying scores on the  AP exams went a long way to me as a high-schooler and freed up some time I might have spent working to instead focus on school.  But I remember the AdvanceKentucky study sessions being even more helpful.  Taking a full day to be immersed in one subject, with a large group of other students doing the same thing, helped me feel much more prepared for the AP exams.  It didn't hurt that these study sessions usually ended up being a lot of fun, as we could spend time getting to know students from nearby schools and getting a free lunch.”  Stephen took full advantage of Bryan Station’s involvement with AdvanceKentucky taking eight(!) AP math, science, and English exams and earning the highest possible score of 5 on all of them!!  His advice to high school students: “If you plan to go to college, AP math, science, and English classes are a great opportunity to get a head start and build your skills early.  No matter what you end up studying, there will likely be core requirements that include at least one class in each of those subjects.  Taking AP classes lets you be more prepared for those classes, allows you to skip past them altogether, or both. Having this advantage in college can set you up to spend more of your time pursuing what is important to you.”

After graduating UK, Stephen spent time working as a Program Manager at Microsoft near Seattle.  “I worked on a team that collaborated with chip manufacturers to bring up devices on new processors.  For example, when Qualcomm released a new processor, I would work directly with their engineers and with Microsoft engineers to get everything working on that chip.  Once we worked through this early development, we would make the result available to other teams at Microsoft so they could build various computers and other devices that would be sold to consumers.  Working as a program manager was a fun challenge, as many parts of that role do not come naturally to me. I got to see and work with all kinds of exciting prototypes.” 

Now, Parsons is back in the Bluegrass State, working as a staff researcher for the Digital Restoration Initiative led by Dr. Brent Seales at the University of Kentucky.  “We work with documents that are too damaged to be opened or read physically and use technology to read them.  Specifically, I am working on methods to scan documents such as scrolls with a MicroCT machine and then read their contents from the CT scan.  Many of the documents we work with are thousands of years old, and I get to travel to interesting places to work with them.  Our ultimate challenge is to read the scrolls of Herculaneum, Italy, which were buried and burned when Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 AD. We want to discover what was written on them 2,000+ years ago and share this knowledge with the world!”  So maybe Stephen does have x-ray vision…  

Computer science has had a large impact on Stephen’s life.  It was a major part of his college experience and is rooted in what he’s doing now with the Digital Restoration Initiative.  Kentucky has embraced the need for expanding computer science opportunities for all students throughout the state and has partnered with the College Board, AdvanceKentucky, and Code.org to develop a Computer Science Initiative, currently in its second cohort, with goals of providing more opportunities for all students, especially those typically under-represented in high level courses, to engage in advanced coursework that will prepare them for future success as well as address a critical workforce need related to computer science knowledge and skills.  While computer science classes were not available to Stephen during high school, he thinks students now should jump at the opportunity to explore what it has to offer.  “Studying computer science is exciting and useful even if you do not end up pursuing it directly for a job.  Computer science requires thinking about complex systems and trying to break them down and figure out how the pieces work together.  It also lets you start with simple ideas and slowly build them together into something amazing.  It can feel like a superpower sometimes, and I love the way it has trained my brain to approach many other challenges in my life.”

For information on the Digital Restoration Initiative, read more.

To contact Stephen Parsons, email him at srparsons1@srparsons.com