Coming into DePauw, Brad Wethington ’13 was well aware that he was a math, numbers, and science guy, but he had no idea that he had any interest in research. “I remember wondering ‘What is research, and why would I ever want to do it?’ My eyes were opened to the idea of research after my research experience at DePauw even before my first-year.” Brad was one of eight students in the first Percy L. Julian Scholarship cohort. The Percy L. Julian Scholarship was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in a grant awarded to Gloria Townsend, Professor of Computer Science, and matching funds from DePauw. The scholarship goes to provide a supportive network for students that live in or a surrounding county of Putnam County and will major in a science supported by the NSF. Percy L. Julian Scholars must also have exhibit academic excellence in high school and be a first generation college student. “Going to college was something I decided that I wanted to do early on in life, but being part of the Percy L. Julian Scholars cohort taught me to take pride in my background and showed me the significance of my accomplishments, especially of being a first-generation college student,” Brad recalls.
As part of the program, Brad, along with the other members of the cohort, attended a weeklong camp doing research at DePauw with professors and other undergraduate students. Brad says, “My main interest was in computer science (CS), but without any programming classes under my belt, it was impossible for me to help out on any projects. I worked with Dr. Richard Martoglio in the chemistry department, but more importantly, the experience opened my eyes to what research really was about. I realized it was discovering the unknown and pushing the edge of technology and science further than it has ever been before.”
Early on during his first-year, Brad approached his advisor and Professor of Computer Science at DePauw, Dr. Dave Berque, about doing research in CS after his first-year. “Dr. Berque essentially told me that it was going to be very difficult to find a research opportunity with so little experience,” Brad recalls, “but Dr. Berque believed in my ability and found some extra grant money to fund my research experience after my first-year! It was a great opportunity and one I would have never gotten without Dave believing in my potential.”
During that summer, Brad worked with a team of other DePauw undergraduates on developing a software system to help persuade users to practice healthier typing habits and help prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) caused by daily keyboard usage. As part of his research, Brad coauthored a paper to be published in the proceedings of the Sixth International Conference for Persuasive Technology. “Working on this project really showed me what computer science research was all about. It taught me that you aren’t necessarily building the next iPhone, but you are discovering knowledge that was not known before. To me, that was pretty cool!”
As a byproduct of his growing interest in research, Brad decided to join the Science Research Fellows (SRF), a Program of Distinction at DePauw. “I wanted to be part of a group that was just as excited about research as I was. Being part of the SRF program helped lay the foundation I needed to get future internships and opportunities.
In the summer following Brad’s sophomore year, he interned in the Software Systems Assurance Department at The Aerospace Corporation. The Aerospace Corporation is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) that has been working to provide independent technical and scientific research, development, and advisory services to national-security space programs since 1960. At Aerospace, software support technicians are responsible for performing technical analysis, software/systems development and integration, and other mission assurance activities within the Computer Applications and Assurance Subdivision. “I designed, developed, and tested updates to an application that has been developed at Aerospace. I also translated a development library that was originally developed for Windows by Aerospace employees to also work on LINUX. My role at Aerospace might have been in quality assurance, but in the end everybody is working towards mission success,” recalls Brad, “I was able to get a sense of how research is done on the corporate level. Even though there might not have been lab tables with beakers, the technicians at Aerospace are making sure that things that have never been done before go smoothly.
Brad is very thankful for his research experiences and the opportunity to participate in the SRF program. “SRF has helped me better understand science, help me think more critically about science and conclusions made from research, and just overall helped me really hone in on what I am truly interested in,” recollects Brad.
SRF has helped in other ways as well. During his junior year, Brad applied and received The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. The Goldwater Scholarship is a national competitive award that goes to promising students that have exhibited outstanding excellence in math, science, or engineering throughout their college careers. “I was extremely humbled to be one of the scholars selected, and it helped me appreciate all that I had accomplished while at DePauw. I also applied as a sophomore but did not receive the award. I really believe the SRF program helped position me to have a successful application and to receive this distinguished honor.”
Brad is unsure of what life after DePauw exactly holds for him. “I believe I want to become a professor and teach at the university level eventually, but I want to find a location that I am willing to dedicate the time and energy needed to successfully obtain a PhD. My professors and advisors have given so much to me that I simply hope that I can give something back to the academic community as well.” Brad might not know exactly what the next stage will be, but one thing is certain: he isn’t too worried about it. “One thing about science is that there will always be new things to discover, and when my time comes to pursue that adventure, I know I will have my experiences and education to pave the path I need to follow.”