The Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) has selected computer science Ph.D. student Neftali Watkinson Medina to receive the Latino Excellence and Achievement Award for graduate student excellence. Every spring, the Latino Excellence and Achievement Dinner (LEAD) brings together the campus community to highlight Latinx graduate student success and inspire others in the Latinx community to advance in graduate and postdoctoral programs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LEAD will honor this year’s awardees virtually through a variety of platforms, including the LEAD 2020 webpage.
Upon learning he was an award recipient, Medina says he broke into “joyous laughter” yet says he must share the credit. “This is not my achievement; it is the achievement of everyone who has supported me and helped me become who I am — my family, my parents, my advisers, and my community, including UCI.”
Medina plans to pursue a career in academics as a computer science lecturer. “We are at a very important point in history where we have to ask ourselves, what makes a computer scientist?” Referring to a 2017 article in Wired magazine, “The Next Big Blue-Collar Job is Coding,” Medina says that educators must justify the time and resources required to pursue a professional degree in computing. “My work involves looking into factors and pedagogical practices that might be key to setting that difference,” he explains. “I am focusing on architecture, as I believe education in general has moved away from teaching students how to efficiently interact with the machines that run their code in favor of user-friendly programming, and I am trying to find out if that needs to change.” He is also currently involved in a project focused on predicting illnesses with the use of deep learning.
Medina, who studied software engineering at El Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior (CETYS Universidad) and earned his master’s degree in computer science from Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación (CICESE) in Ensenada, says he feels a responsibility to give back to Mexico. “I think this shift towards online learning has created an opportunity for academic institutions, and I am in contact with my university back at my hometown to create programs that will empower college students and push them to pursue graduate education, whether in Mexico or in the U.S.” He is working with representatives at both CETYS and CICESE. “We are looking into creating joint research programs where students can interact with faculty from UCI.”
— Shani Murray