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Honors Student Highlight: Ian McCormack

| Megan Gosian

Ian McCormack not only landed an awesome summer internship at Carnegie Mellon, but also embodies what we think of as an Honors student. As a double major in Computer Science and English Rhetoric of Science, Technology, and Culture with a minor in math, Ian is no stranger to challenge.

Ian McCormack on campus

In Winterim of 2020, Ian applied for nearly 10 REUs (Research Experience for Undergraduates) and was excited to be accepted to a project at Carnegie Mellon University. Within this project titled “TickTalk,” Ian worked with a team of PHD students and professors who he described as “just as welcoming and accepting as they were prestigious.” His project utilizes hundreds of traffic sensors found in urban areas to create a platform for people to easily develop smart city applications. Ian had a great time despite this work being technically challenging. He reports that “the fact it was so challenging and such a stretch/growth opportunity for me is what made it fun.” He was surprised by the emphasis of presentational speaking in his research and learned that “original ideas are important, but they aren’t valuable unless you know how to express them.”  With the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation, Ian’s team believes they will have a prototype ready in the near future.

Ian relates this internship experience to his prior honors experience. Besides working for the program as a student staff member during his sophomore year, he has enjoyed numerous colloquium and elective classes. He states, “As I dive further into research, everything feels like what I did in the Honors Program.” What he means by this is that the Honors Program encourages students to think critically through diverse perspectives, which is important for his current research. Ian tells us that the people he looks up to--such as his professors and Honors Program Associate Pam Golden—support and encouraging this kind of thinking.

If you talked to Ian right now, he would be busy finishing up his senior year and continuing to help with the Tick Talk project, in addition to applying for multiple graduate schools and fellowships. In addition to studying programming languages, Ian strives to make technology accessible within minority communities. This means making user friendly platforms for people to design their own apps that will solve problems. He acknowledges the privilege that has gotten him to this stage in life and wants to apply his interdisciplinary knowledge towards helping diverse communities. Until then, Ian plans on finishing his courses strong and continuing to express his love of music through playing piano with the Jazz Band.  Ian will miss the coffee shops on campus and chatting with Pam and Honors peers in the office.

When it comes to his success, Ian understands that what works for him won’t work for everyone else, but he still has some pretty good advice. First of all, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ian shared that he had no idea what he was doing when he first got into research. However, “you will never learn unless you are pushed out of your comfort zone. You have to learn that it’s okay to be vulnerable for the sake of learning.” Additionally, Ian stresses the benefits of pursuing what interests you as well as what you think of as practical. Although the planning ahead is crucial for many Honors students, he says that sometimes the best opportunities come up when you don’t write out every detail of your four-year plan. According to Ian, as long as you keep an open mind and an attitude of gratitude, the rest will fall in place.

As an Honors 100 mentor during his junior year, Ian would always tell his students to make sure they do something for themselves at least once a week. Besides sparing no expense on daily cups of coffee, Ian loves to put this advice into practice by getting burritos from El Pat, a popular restaurant on Water Street. He advises “find your inner burrito” and encourages peers to take time for themselves to recharge and rewards themselves. We look forward to following Ian’s next journey via social media—and to following his wonderful advice. Congratulations and good luck!