Maroon banner with yellow beam of light highlighting "Tarik Merzkani"

CSpotlight: Highlighting Diversity and Giving Back

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in computer science specifically at the University of Minnesota? 

I was born and raised in Honduras and moved to the United States six years ago with my older brother. First, we were in New York, and then we moved to Minnesota. Before finishing secondary education, I had decided on pursuing some kind of mixture of computer science and physics. I had heard accounts of the University here in the Twin Cities having tremendous programs for STEM related fields, the idea of living up in the Cities was exciting. What really appealed to me was the large number of people that live in the Cities’ and its diversity. I have since confirmed that people of amazing caliber from all over the world reside in the Twin Cities. I am really happy to be able to share this experience with my friends at the University of Minnesota.  

How did you become interested in computer science? What are your specific interests within the field? 

I have loved the process of problem solving, especially finding efficient and challenging ways to solve a specific problem. I really like using mathematical concepts to find out new things and provide stepping stones for a solution. Both computer science and physics share these features. I took a computer science course during high school, and I found it very fun. You could really feel the process of learning as you are capable of more and more things. Computer science and information is all around us and we use it to not only make the lives of each other better, but also connect us more as people. My interests in the field include artificial intelligence, machine learning, and their applications in society. Additionally, I really enjoy the process of optimization and using parallel computing to improve existing algorithms. Improving their performance makes a significant difference in solving difficult problems in a way that can be more readily applicable. 

Congratulations on earning a 3M Impact scholarship! How will this scholarship impact  your academic and extracurricular work?

It has tremendously impacted my academic life because it has opened so many doors for  me. It’s only driven me to continue studying what I enjoy. It’s also allowed more room for myself to focus more on studies and partake in new experiences by being involved in the community. I’ll be forever grateful for these opportunities. 

Are you involved in any student groups? What inspired you to get involved? What  do you hope to contribute to the computer science community at the University? 

I have been involved working as an undergraduate teaching assistant here at the University of Minnesota. I am really glad I can take part in supporting students through the learning process in some of the computer science classes. I really enjoy sharing ideas with students and communicating problem solving methods. My experience as a teaching assistant has made me realize how much I enjoy talking about computer science concepts. I have also been involved with the Multicultural Center of Academic Excellence (MCAE), working as an academic consultant tutor. Students are able to form appointments and I am able to provide support in the areas of computer science, physics, and mathematics. 

I have been relatively involved in computer science student groups, such as the  Competitive Programming Club (CPP) and GopherHack. GopherHack is managed by my  friends and I support the club here and there. I also enjoy the CPC since we’re always learning something new in regards to problem solving, studying patterns in problems, and discussing new algorithms and data structures. 

Additionally, I am very much involved in the Super Smash Brothers Club, being an  officer there, which is a club for the Nintendo Game. We hold events for people who enjoy the game. I also help organize the Super Smash Bros Tournament in Dinkytown at the Left Click Lounge. I work with the people there and they are great. We hold the tournament so people from the Super Smash Bros community in Minnesota can participate and connect.  

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students? 

The process of learning is not linear. But it is a process for which you’ll be forever grateful for. Frustrating times and great hurdles are only natural. From my perspective, going through these tough times is what makes your academic life here at the University of Minnesota so life-changing, and I can’t emphasize that enough. When you are facing these challenges, try to remind yourself that you are doing an awesome job because you are making the best out of your situation. What is most important is finding an area that makes you really excited because that is what keeps pushing you to learn more and more. This process is meant to be a positive experience for you. In this field, there is no shortage of different avenues to take. 

What are your plans after graduation? 

After graduation, I plan on continuing my studies in graduate school. My goal is to obtain a master’s degree in computer science. After this, I hope I can work in the industry and gain experience there. I really like teaching in general, so it is very likely that at some point I’ll try my best to complete a Ph.D. program and work as a computer science instructor at a University.