Jared Schmitz’s love of computers began when his parents gave him an old Apple to play with at the age of 3.
“I was on it forever,” he said. “My parents encouraged it and that’s why I’m here. I’ve always been interested in how stuff works and a computer is complex and hard to figure out. I guess that’s why I am so interested in them.”
Seventeen years later, Schmitz has become only one of five computer science majors in the country to receive the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which honors exceptional undergraduate researchers who intend to enter math, science or engineering fields. Schmitz and fellow Binghamton University student William Marsiglia are two of 275 students to win the annual $7,500 award.
“I had no idea how (the scholarship) was so prestigious until I looked to see how many people it had been awarded to,” Schmitz said. “When I saw that (275) won, I thought, ‘Oh, this is a big deal.’”
Schmitz, a senior from Huntington Station, is advised by associate professors Nael Abu-Ghazaleh and Dmitry Ponomarev and has researched computer security in Ponomarev’s lab for more than a year.
“When computers were originally made, they were meant to go as fast as possible,” Schmitz said. “There was no Internet; you didn’t have to worry about people breaking into stuff. Performance and security are usually at odds: the computer would be much easier to use if you didn’t have to type in a password. So we try to find a way to make a computer more secure without making it noticeably slower.”
Schmitz credits the hands-on atmosphere of Ponomarev’s lab, which assists the U.S. Air Force’s Rome Laboratory on projects, with much of his success.
“If you do research at bigger schools, your advisor will say, ‘Come up with a research topic,’ look at your abstract and not really help you,” Schmitz said. “My professor here is always available. It’s great: If we ever have a problem, (Ponomarev) is in the building and always where we can talk with him. We’ll sit down in a conference room, fill up a white board and figure it out.”
A research paper authored by Schmitz on computer security has been accepted – and will be published – by the Design Automation Conference. He presented on the topic at the organization’s annual conference in San Diego over the summer.
Ponomarev praised Schmitz’s creativity, maturity and ability to work both independently and as part of a team.
“I am extremely impressed with Jared’s ability to quickly capture the new concepts, analyze them, read supplemental literature and make contributions toward the project goals,” Ponomarev said. “Instead of being discouraged by the challenges, Jared views them as additional opportunities.”
Schmitz, who plays percussion instruments such as the xylophone as a form of stress relief, said a happy demeanor is a key ingredient for a college education.
“If you’re not happy somewhere, it doesn’t matter if you have the best labs or the smartest professors,” he said. “If you’re not doing well psychologically, you’re not going to learn anything. I’ve always been happy here. If you don’t let things bother you, you’ll do fine.”
Schmitz plans to continue his computer science studies in graduate school, but also hopes to “branch out” this year by taking classes in other areas.
“Programming, programming, programming for 12 hours a day can be very tiring,” he said. “Maybe some right-brain things would be nice.”