December 6, 2018
Bernard Dickens III is a Chicago native. He received a B.S. in computer science from Morehouse College and is now pursuing a Ph.D. We interviewed him about his experiences at the University of Chicago.
Why did you choose UChicago?
Aside from UChicago’s academic reputation, I was drawn to the school because I grew up in Chicago, and it’s where my family is based. Moreover, most of my community/outreach activities are heavily concentrated in Chicago and have been for a decade now. Growing up, I had family in Hyde Park and was on or around the University’s campus rather frequently.
What noteworthy academic, research, or teaching activities you have pursued while at the UChicago?
I was awarded the 2018 Generation Google (Google for Education) scholarship for my STEM work with children in the community. I successfully defended and published my master’s thesis on using stream ciphers for storage encryption. I’m rounding out my dissertation on improving the performance and integrity of encrypted storage systems and verifying the authenticity of assets via distributed solutions; I hope to graduate soon! I also volunteer through the university with activities like the annual Hour of Code and giving talks at primary/secondary schools.
What activities do you participate in outside of the classroom?
Gaming, studying, and coding aside, I help judge science fairs either locally or at the city/state level. Recently, I’ve judged science fairs at Andrew Jackson Language Academy and at regional and city science fairs in Chicago.
For the better part of a decade, I’ve personally mentored several local and at-risk youth, usually through ancillary STEM outreach/concentrator programs like BDPA. One of my mentees who, when we first met, was ambivalent towards his own ability and scoffed at the idea of college, is now enjoying his freshman year as a CS major at Bradley University! Currently, two of my most intellectually ambitious high schoolers are working with me on a component of my dissertation research at the university. This year, I’m volunteering with BDPA at the national level as Chief Judge responsible for organizing and orchestrating the BDPA’s national high school computer science competition.
What are your plans post-UChicago?
I’m not yet sure, so I’m keeping my options somewhat open. If not teaching (secondary or liberal arts post-secondary), then perhaps industry. If not industry, perhaps academic research at a university. Or perhaps some permutation of the three.
What support have you received at UChicago?
I was awarded the GAANN fellowship by the university my first year and have been supported as a TA and, more recently, as an RA.
I’ve also received plenty of moral and pedagogical support from classmates, colleagues, and professors. For example, I came into the university with holes in my mathematical foundation and struggled through some parts of my coursework, but professors organized tutoring, TAs held office hours, and my advisor offered apt guidance. I’ve improved substantially thanks to this support.
If you were speaking to a prospective student, what would you tell them about UChicago?
If you’re here to be challenged, to chase knowledge to the periphery of all that is known, to peer over the edge into the uncertain and make a tangible impact there, you’ve come to the right place.