Computer science wasn’t always in the cards for Robert MacDavid and Brian Brubach, but after first following different paths, the Rutgers University–Camden seniors have been recognized as two of the brightest young researchers in the field.
Sharing the Spotlight
Flipping the Script
If Brian Brubach’s collegiate experience were a movie script, a degree in computer science would have been an unlikely denouement. As the once-aspiring cinematographer would tell you, sometimes the best moments are unplanned.
“I actually got my undergraduate degree in film,” says Brubach, a Maryland native. “After I graduated from Columbia College Chicago, I freelanced for a while and became involved in an arts education program. I liked it, but it wasn’t challenging the mathematical side of my brain.”
It was time for a rewrite. Brubach took some computer programming classes at Columbia College Chicago and, after moving to the Philadelphia area, decided to enroll full time at Rutgers–Camden and pursue his bachelor’s degree in computer science. He quickly became passionate about it.
“I didn’t realize that there is this whole theoretical side to computer science,” says Brubach, who still lives in Philadelphia. “There was a connection there for me. When I had that first class with Dr. Rajiv Gandhi, I realized it was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Accepting a Challenge
MacDavid, who is from Collingswood, New Jersey, had a similar aha moment while working with Gandhi. He came to Rutgers–Camden to pursue a degree in engineering or mathematics, and computer science wasn’t even on his radar.
“During my first computer science course, I became fascinated with the different ways to use math to solve problems,” MacDavid says. “Dr. Gandhi challenged me. He really pushes you to go above and beyond the coursework. He gave me a computer science problem that seemed interesting and I would work on it every day. It gave me confidence to succeed. I love solving these problems that require math and computational skills.”
In December 2013, Brubach and MacDavid were recognized by the Computing Research Association (CRA) for outstanding research projects. The Rutgers–Camden seniors were two of just 22 students to receive honorable mentions for the prestigious 2013 CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards. The CRA’s award program recognizes undergraduate students at North American universities who show outstanding research potential in computer science.
For his research project, MacDavid worked on an intractable scheduling problem and came up with algorithms that yield near-optimal solutions. Brubach’s research, a two-dimensional packing problem, improved upon the best-known solution for packing an online sequence of squares into a unit square container without any two squares overlapping.
“This recognition tells me I am able to perform research of real significance,” MacDavid says. “It is amazing to me because it was only two years ago that I did not even know what computer science research was. Because of my experiences at Rutgers–Camden, I will soon be on the cutting edge of modern research.”
“It's encouraging to be recognized among such a talented group of people,” Brubach says.
Both students plan to pursue doctoral degrees in computer science after they graduate in May.