CS&E senior, president, and social advocate

David Ma wants to continue meaningful work in future career

Even as a senior, David Ma is still enamored by the simple beauty of the University of Minnesota campus.

“There’s this perfect time in the fall. Maybe you're walking down Scholar’s Walk, the leaves are falling and the sun is starting to set. It feels so peaceful,” Ma said. “It’s just a very gorgeous campus.”

While the campus views are enthralling, the College of Science and Engineering senior has spent the last four years making sure the student experience is beautiful as well. Ma, a computer science and math double major, is the president of the Science and Engineering Student Board (SESB) and a member of the Chinese American Student Association (CASA). Both groups’ missions are to advocate for students of all cultures at the University. 

He devotes his time to this cause for the same reason he enjoys U of M campus life so much: its diversity.

“I enjoy getting involved with the multicultural community on campus because it’s very vibrant,” Ma said. “You get to meet a lot of new people and learn a lot because it’s a very active community that’s socially and politically engaged.”

As Ma prepares to graduate this spring, he’s sure of one thing. Inspired by his SESB presidency and internships, he’s set on pursuing meaningful work with a positive impact—and something that would challenge him.

"I’m hoping to do something innovative that takes significant problem solving and creative thinking,” he said, “That when you finish it, it’s not a redundant software problem, it feels like you just created something new.”

From coding robots to professional software development

Ma's interest in computer science sparked while volunteering for his middle school and high school robotics team.

"I found out programming is fun, so I went to college and took more computer science classes and I found out college isn't so terrible. I'm having a good time," said Ma, who received support from the Sarah Jeon & Charles McGarraugh U of M Talented Youth Mathematics Program.

Ma obtained a lot of math credits through Post Secondary Enrollment Option courses but is passionate about the benefits computer science offers.

Since starting at the University of Minnesota, Ma has had two internships where he could put his knowledge to professional use.

At Optum, he worked as a software engineer and helped the company leverage data around social determinants of health to predict certain medical outcomes. During summer 2020, he got a virtual internship with Securian Financial, where he worked on website architecture among other independent projects.

Dedicated student, bright future

When not pursuing his degree or working his internships, Ma dedicates his free time to SESB, the official undergraduate governing body of the College of Science and Engineering. The group facilitates community by planning events and advocating on behalf of students, acting as a bridge between the college administration and students. The student leaders focus on diversity and inclusion, outreach, mental health, and academic affairs.

As president, Ma oversees and facilitates the six committees of the organization. He plans general meetings and gives encouragement when needed.

"[SESB leadership] is fun. I encourage people to join." Ma said. "It's a good time and you meet a lot of new people."

Ma credits the last year of SESB and its smooth transition to virtual events during the coronavirus pandemic as one of his proudest achievements at the University.

SESB board members on the steps outside Walter Library
David Ma (front center) and the 2020 Science and Engineering Student Board (SESB) leadership team. Photo credit: Emma Augdahl.

Like many in the Class of 2021, Ma knows it's necessary for classes and graduation to look different to curb COVID-19, but he recognizes too that it isn't ideal. 

"[Graduating] feels a little anticlimactic," Ma said. "Not many expected the pandemic to last more than a year."

Ma plans to get his master's degree after graduation and work in software development before considering pursuing a Ph.D. He can see himself going down many academic and career paths, but his desire to travel takes precedence in his mind.

"Maybe my wanderlust is stronger because of the quarantine we're in, but I've lived in Minnesota for my entire life," Ma said. "I would like to see what it's like living elsewhere."

Story by Kathryn Richner