CS Senior Spotlight: Antonio Rocha

Antonio RochaNorthwestern Engineering’s Antonio Rocha graduates this month with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Rocha won a Northwestern CS Outstanding Senior award “for leadership in the Northwestern CS community.” In addition to serving as president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) during the 2022-23 academic year, Rocha was a peer mentor for COMP_SCI 211: Fundamentals of Computer Programming II and a member of the Computer Science Student Advisory board, where he advocated for student support systems.

Passionate about finding ways to make technology more accessible to underrepresented groups, Rocha is a member of the Technological Innovations for Inclusive Learning and Teaching (tiilt) Lab led by Marcelo Worsley, assistant professor of computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering and assistant professor of learning sciences in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. Through the tiilt Lab, Rocha volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago to help educate youth about artificial intelligence technology.

A first-generation college student, Rocha participated in the Knight Community Scholars Program through Northwestern’s Student Enrichment Services, the Melville and Jane Hodge EXCEL Scholars Program, and QuestBridge Scholars Network.

We asked him about his experience at Northwestern Engineering, impactful collaborative experiences, and his advice for current students.

Why did you decide to pursue the CS major at McCormick?

The computer science faculty are what attracted me most to the major. I felt like I was actively listened to and that I was able to have sincere conversations with my professors. I was also astounded by the number of resources available to help me succeed in my coursework and in my career.

Growing up, I was always curious about cultivating my STEM knowledge and McCormick granted me the opportunity to delve deeper into STEM areas I would have otherwise not explored. This exploration allowed me to hone my true interests within STEM — technology and engineering as well as inclusivity within these spaces.

How did the McCormick curriculum help build a balanced, whole-brain ecosystem around your studies in CS?

I really enjoyed the Design Thinking and Communication (DTC) course in that it gave me exposure to working in a team throughout the lifecycle of a product. I find that a lot of courses within computer science don't include courses structured in this manner. DTC allowed me to see some of the challenges that come up when working with a team as well as how to resolve them.

The theme requirements within McCormick are also a great opportunity to explore courses that highlight a different world of learning. In particular, the theme requirement led me to take ART 240: Introduction to Sculpture with Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, which was by far one of my favorite courses at Northwestern. It served as a creative outlet and taught me a lot of significant lessons about art.

PRDV 335: Engineering Improv taught by Assistant Dean Joseph Holtgreive helped me become better at taking life as it comes. It helped shift my structured mind to be more adept at dealing with the unexpected, the things that we perhaps did not plan for.

What are some examples of collaborative or interdisciplinary experiences at Northwestern that were impactful to your education and research?

Serving as the SHPE president, I worked with people both within Northwestern and outside of Northwestern. It was a great opportunity for me to not only establish a network for myself, but for my peers as well. It also granted us all opportunities that we would otherwise not have had. For example, in the fall, we sent 28 of our members to the national convention and secured several students job opportunities and connections. My involvement with SHPE was definitely beneficial in supporting me to land my post-graduation career.

I also worked at several points with Wesley Burghardt, associate dean for undergraduate engineering, and Ellen Worsdall, assistant dean for student affairs, to think critically about the McCormick curriculum and its impacts on the first-generation, lower-income, and generally underrepresented student populations. I shared numerous first-hand accounts through my involvement with SHPE as well as my participation as a peer mentor. This brought not only insights and awareness to the issues our community faces, but also potential solutions that could be implemented long-term.

What skills or knowledge did you learn in the undergraduate program that you think will stay with you for a lifetime?

My communication across groups of people is something that I have gotten significantly better at, as well as being able to advocate for my position on a topic or idea. This ability has better allowed me to lead a group of individuals as well as work within a group of individuals for a common purpose.

What's next? What are your short- and long-term plans/goals in terms of graduate studies and/or career path?

After graduating, I plan on working as a software engineer at Microsoft. Long-term, I hope to obtain a leadership position within the tech space, such as an engineering manager. Eventually, I want to come back to academia and perhaps even become a professor one day. I am really passionate about the education space, and I want to eventually contribute to its growth.

What advice do you have for current Northwestern CS students?

Get out of the productivity bubble! Go out, explore, relax, and have fun. Your wellness is your most valuable asset and most students I have interacted with have taken it for granted. You might surprise yourself in that you are able to grow your career and yourself as a person even when not buckling down to study.

Personally, most of my growth has happened outside of the classroom. I have formed connections that are invaluable to me as a result of me being okay with not constantly being productive in the stereotypical Northwestern student way. At the end of the day, you will most definitely figure it out – do not be afraid to reach out for help when you are struggling!

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