“My parents never had the option to attend college,” Justin reflects, “instead, they have worked hard at blue collar jobs and have had to endure the effects of economic instability on small, struggling cities.”
Justin credits his parents and grandmother with planting a vision for college throughout his childhood. “My parents always told me I was going to college, and I believed them. I didn’t know where. I didn’t know what I would study. I didn’t know if I would make it. But my mom, dad and grandmother all affirmed that college was in my future. They wanted a better life for me than they had. They wanted me to aspire, not just survive.”
When Justin was accepted as a student at UK, he didn’t know what college would hold for him. As a first generation college student, he didn’t have anyone whose experience he could lean on. He went from the southeastern Kentucky city of London, with a total population of around 8,000 to a campus of over 20,000 students. Justin remembers well the challenges of adjusting to the rigorous demands of higher education. “While I did well in high school, I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of a college engineering curriculum,” he grins. “Calculus, in particular, wasn’t very nice to me.”
Like his parents, Justin endured. His interest and aptitude for computer science has already opened several doors. “I love computers and I love working on new technologies, so when the opportunity came to work on a project with the Vis Center (Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments) at the new Davis Marksbury Building, I immediately took it. I worked on the STITCH project, which looked at ways to lessen the physical stress on surgeons performing minimally invasive surgeries. It gave me a chance to apply my education in a brand new building specifically constructed for research. I couldn’t have been happier.”
Prior to graduation, Justin competed with two fellow students in the IEEEXtreme Programming Competition, where teams were faced with programming challenges throughout a grueling 24 hour period. From among 1515 teams in the competition, his team finished 23rd in the nation and 94th in the world.
Because Justin was able to broaden his skills through his research at the Vis Center, he was able to land a paid internship at HP. His experience at HP proved to be valuable when applying for jobs post-graduation; Justin was recently hired at Lexmark and will rotate through its different departments in order to gain maximum exposure to Lexmark’s business.
It is clear to faculty and friends that Justin took full advantage of his chance to go to college. When he reflects on the opportunity he was given, his gratitude is obvious. “I honestly feel like I have been trained for success within a profession I enjoy and care about. I am going to have the life my parents hoped for me.”