CSpotlight: A master at problem solving

B.S. student Benjamin DeNio was immediately drawn to the problem-solving facet of computer science. During the pandemic, he tapped into his love of gaming to connect with and provide support to his fellow students by leading an online Dungeons & Dragons group. He was awarded the CS&E Maximillian Lando Scholarship, which recognizes community involvement, for his efforts.

Why did you choose to study computer science at the University of Minnesota?

The University of Minnesota was a top entry when I googled “best computer science school in the Midwest.” Plus, I had a friend who is a very capable engineer and computer scientist who is currently working at Amazon. He went to the U of M, and I thought if it was good for him, then it’ll be good for me as well!

How did you become interested in computer science?

I really liked calculus back in high school, despite the fact that I was really bad at it. However, I specifically enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of it, so my teacher recommended that I register for his computer class. I guess the problems in math got too complicated while it’s more like putting LEGO pieces together in computer science for me.

Congratulations on being a recipient of the 2020-21 Maximillian Lando Scholarship! How has the scholarship impacted your academic career?

The Maximillian Lando Scholarship is awarded to students who have demonstrated community involvement at the University of Minnesota. I was awarded the scholarship due to my involvement in growing and maintaining a Dungeons & Dragons group as a Dungeon Master during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, I am an advocate for mental health awareness and I made it my priority to maintain the connections we had established as a group by checking in with group members and continuing to facilitate games.

The scholarship definitely made a difference for me. I was able to reduce my work hours and have less overalls stress. I ended up spending a lot of my time being able to study more and manage my class better.

Tell us more about your internship experience with Open Systems International. What did you enjoy most about the experience?

Being in an industry environment was very helpful and enjoyable—a lot different from a class setting. I was a test developer for something similar to stress testing. The goal was to limit computer resources to see how much an individual can handle without technology. The load test I wrote actually ended up being used in some of the new employed systems!

What are you looking forward to most about your upcoming internship at Thrivent Financial?

I am definitely looking forward to meeting new people and creating connections. I'm also excited to have a stable position with a regular schedule so I can have time to spend with my friends and family.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

My advice is to put your ego away. When I started at the U of M, I thought I had ample knowledge in computing. Then, I kind of realized that I didn't know as much as I thought I knew! Also, new students should remember to just be open and willing to ask questions as well as help others around you.

What are your plans after graduation?

Currently, I have pretty loose plans. I’m going to see what it’s like to work at Thrivent and maybe decide to continue working there after graduation. I also haven't decided if I want to stay in Minnesota or not.