Mentor Monday: Meet Benjamin

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Meet Benjamin...

What is something many people don’t know about you?
I have been dogsledding and camping on the frozen lakes of Northern Minnesota.

How did you become interested in technology and programming?
I first started programming (JAVA) as a college freshman. When I ran my first program I felt as though I had landed in the world of Harry Potter and had been given my first wand. Ever since, I’ve been delighted by how much mathematics and analysis can be automated via programming.

What did you study in college?
I have a B.S. in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and I am currently pursuing a M.S. in Geospatial Information Science at UT Dallas.

What are you working on now?
My graduate research is focused on developing a model that assesses the risk of a traffic accident occurring on any given segment of an urban road network based on dynamic and static data, including historical accidents, nearby accidents, road characteristics, network structure, weather, and time of day. To this end I am using techniques including spatiotemporal clustering, network kernel density estimation, and space syntax methodology and tools including R, Python, ESRI ArcGIS, and QGIS. Ultimately, this spatial risk modeling is part of a larger project funded by the National Institution of Standards and Technology (NIST) and in conjunction with the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department to improve the safety and response time of emergency vehicle dispatching. 

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
Watching students debugging programs is by far the most rewarding part of mentoring. The students begin the process frustrated that their code isn’t working, but after they are able to successfully diagnose the problem they become so pleased with themselves. Seeing them increase their confidence through this process is a delight.

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
I wish I could tell my younger self not to be scared of how incomprehensible code seemed. I think I was worried that I would break something by modifying or experimenting with pre-existing code. 

What is it about Bold Idea’s mission that really connect with you?
Software and electronics have become so ubiquitous in our society now, so I think it is important that new generations be equipped to not simply be consumers of technology, but also have some understanding about what happens “under the hood” of all this technology. By reaching kids at a young age, I think that Bold Idea is contributing to a greater level of technological literacy in the next generation. Whatever career each Bold Idea student ends up pursuing they will always have some broad idea of how cell phones, computers, and the internet work.

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