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Draft 5: Essay 2

I wiped the workroom whiteboard clean one last time that evening in frustration with myself. “This is just math!” I naively exclaimed in my head: “I just need a function to decelerate the bot as it approaches its target—why am I struggling so much with simple algebra?” Determined to solve the bot’s excess momentum buildup and consequent overshooting issue, I reevaluated my many failed attempts from the past week and concentrated on the possibilities I may have overlooked.

Just as I was about to run out of room on the whiteboard yet again, everything finally clicked. Neither my algebra nor my understanding of deceleration was wrong. Rather, the numbers from the bot’s sensors were simply of completely different units from those workable for the motors, explaining the bot’s erratic behavior given inputs of extreme magnitudes. Excited with the potential discovery, I meticulously explored my hypothesis late into the night: if I converted the sensor readings into percentage values for the motors, I’d remain within input bounds and the bot’s inconsistencies would finally be resolved!

Four years later, I still remember the incredibly simple and beautiful one-line solution I wrote that would forever change my perspective on mathematics, and computer science and engineering. In retrospect, I’ve learned that my epiphanic application of vector normalization was a result of my critical thinking and analytical skills I’ve honed from past math and science classes.

In particular, I’ve realized that by double majoring in mathematics and computer science, I can broaden my skills to better apply knowledge outside the classroom, just as I did, unknowingly, in high school robotics. I’ve discovered that I’m deeply motivated and inspired by the creative challenge to apply previously learned analytical skills in novel situations. In fact, the balance between developing broader skills in practical mathematical and scientific analysis and synthesizing new ideas is the core of what I hope to learn and study as a prospective CS-Math double major.

My interdisciplinary interest only grew when I competed at DubHacks this past autumn, where I had the opportunity to challenge the limits of the team’s experience and collaborate together to incorporate each of our unique interests in art, app development, data science, robotics and hardware.

As the hours passed late into the night, we found ourselves quickly reiterating to solve increasingly ambitious and complex problems. After I checked on the progress of each of my teammates and realized we had a nearly complete project with six hours left, I recall feeling a boost in energy as I proposed one last “moonshot” to the team: we had the opportunity to transform our Android-Arduino data-analytics hack into a complete exercise bike that would harness calories burned to generate Bitcoin!

I still recall trying to suppress my overflowing excitement and literal sweat worked up in presenting the project as I watched magic unfold as each member, in sequence, explained the immense amount of teamwork and coordination required to tie each of the pieces together. Finishing fourth place was only the cherry on top of the invaluable collaboration experience we shared that incredible and intense weekend.

From the past year, I’ve realized that I ultimately wish to share and further explore this collaborative learning I experienced at DubHacks. From participation in numerous hackathons and high school robotics, I have explored the incredible possibilities from applying my skills outside the classroom. I wish to work with other inspired and diversely talented students to form new relationships and learning experiences through teamwork, creativity, and critical thinking.

Ultimately, I believe that the community of computer science and engineering is unique in that the students are given the extraordinary opportunity to not only facilitate their own achievement, but also to impact the learning experience of their peers. I want to share and further enrich this unique environment by seeking collaborative relationships and by applying my skills in new ventures to fulfill my interdisciplinary goals.

Joseph Zhong

Joseph Zhong

“The brick walls give us a chance to show how badly we want something. They stop people who don’t want it badly enough.” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

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