Award-Winning Senior Creates One Line of Code at a Time

jesse mu

For Jesse Mu, MCAS ’17, motivation comes in the form of creation. More specifically, he is motivated by sharing his creations, wanting to see them have an “immediate, measurable impact.” A computer science major and mathematics minor, Mu struggles against insignificance to make a change, both in the lives of other students through his mentorship, and through the effects of the technology he creates.

Having grown up in Nebraska, Mu found BC through his father, who is a professor at Creighton University. He entered as a psychology major, specifically interested in language, as he learned Mandarin at home as a child, and Spanish in high school, but his focus changed once he took a computer science course in his first semester at BC.

“I just kind of fell in love with it,” Mu said, “It was a really interesting blend of logic and math.”

Mu switched majors, and began trying to figure out how he could integrate his two interests. He realized that there was a lot of interesting innovation in the intersection of psychology, computer science, and language.

“A lot of cool things happening in the industry right now have to do with computers that can understand human language, process it, and speak it, like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo,” he said.

Mu wanted to do research during his sophomore year, but there weren’t any faculty members doing research in areas he was interested in—computer science, language, and psychology. Rather than settling on an area he was less interested in, Mu took the advice of his mentors and looked off campus for a professor to research with. He ended up at MIT, where he worked with post-doctorate associate Joshua Hartshorne, researching language. Though Mu had traveled to Cambridge to find Hartshorne, both ended up back on the Heights, where they now work in the Language Learning Lab.

“While I was working with him, he ended up accepting a faculty position at Boston College,” Mu said. “So he ended up starting during my junior year at BC … It was really serendipitous.”

With this story, Mu applied for and won the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, a research-based scholarship for students studying the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering. Each year, only 300 students nationwide are awarded the scholarship, and the average GPA for winners is in the 3.9-4.0 range. For Mu, winning the scholarship served as affirmation, helping him to realize that pursuing research was the right choice.

“When I received it, that was good verification that I was on the right career path, focusing on an academic path rather than software engineering,” he said.

Mu’s second award, the Churchill Scholarship, has helped define his path. Only a select 110 colleges can nominate students for the Churchill Scholarship, and each nominates two students per year. Winners of the Churchill Scholarship go on to research the physical and natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering at Cambridge University for a year in a master’s program. Mu will be studying advanced computer science in Churchill College next year, before starting a five-year Ph.D. program at Stanford University.

Before he crosses the Atlantic to continue his studies in the United Kingdom, however, Mu will be spending the summer as an intern at Amazon, working on the Echo teamthe perfect opportunity for him, since he would like to eventually return to a tech company.

“Echo is an example of where Amazon is leading a new generation of technology,” he said. “These kinds of companies are in unique positions where they have all these customers, all this data, and they’re able to make products that have a huge impact on people’s lives.”

It is this desire to have an impact on others that seems to drive Mu, yet it is clear that here, at BC, he is already doing so. For him, mentors, both faculty members and upperclassmen, have had an enormous impact on his college career and where he is heading, and he tries to pass on the same guidance to his younger peers.

“I recognize that I am a product of all these people who have helped me become who I am, so I try to pass that on as much as I can,” he said. “That includes meeting with people who might be considering doing things like I did freshman year: being a teaching assistant for a couple years, and being president of the Computer Science Society.”

Even while so clearly affecting the lives and paths of younger students, even while looking forward to exciting opportunities ahead of him, Mu admits to some worries.

“In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m kind of stuck,” he said. “As one person, you can’t really do much.”

For Mu, to become unstuck means to create and to share, changing the lives of others, one line of code at a time.
“You can see the product of your work, and say ‘I made that,’ which is pretty awesome,” he said.
“I get really excited about the idea that you could write code and have it affect millions of users.”

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor