CSpotlight: An outstanding student leader

Since freshman year, David Ma has dedicated his free time to the Science and Engineering Student Board. As a junior, he was elected president and received the President’s Student Leadership & Service Award for being an outstanding student leader. Now, inspired by his presidency and multiple internships, he's set to continue to pursue meaningful work as he starts his career in big tech.

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

A lot of it comes down to familiarity and comfort. I was actually a PSEO student at the University of Minnesota during my senior years in high school, so I had already took a few classes at the university. The campus is also beautiful with a good community, and I was able to meet a lot of cool people!

What sparked your interest in computer science?

That’s a tough question! There are such a variety of computer science classes—some that I enjoy a lot, and other that I'm not as interested in. In middle school and high school, I was involved with computer science (specifically robotics) on-and-off. Through this, I just found out that I really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of computer science, as well as how I can create products with my own hands.

How did you get involved with the Science and Engineering Student Board (SESB)?

Like most freshmen when they first get to campus, I asked myself the question 'what do I do with my college years?'. So, I signed up for the SESB First Year Initiative and I really enjoyed it. The initiative is focused on helping new students get involved within the College of Science and Engineering, make new friends, and develop leadership and communication skills.

During my second year, I decided to run to be the director of First Year Initiative committee and I got elected! This was what really solidified my interest and involvement with SESB. I had the opportunity to attend conferences, where I got to meet a lot of cool people and just had an amazing experience overall.

During my third year, I wanted to stay involved so I ran and got elected as president. I was focused on improving transparency of the student service fees, as well as collaborating with other committee directors on the board.

You were also the undergraduate representative on the CSE Dean Search Committee. What was this experience like?

The College of Science and Engineering is in need of a new dean, and I was nominated by the SESB advisor. The committee got together regularly to discuss what different stakeholders are looking for in the future dean. We also discussed other topics, including support for research, attitude toward mental health in the college, and diversity & inclusion. My role was to be the undergraduate voice and share the student perspective with the committee.

Tell us more about your internships at Securian Financial and Optum.

Optum is a healthcare company and I was working on a team with other software development interns. We were working on a project involving social determinants of health. For instance, usually when you think of health, you would think of factors such as blood pressure, but what we were really focusing on were the social aspects such as income level, education, and geographic location. Generally, for example, those of lower income may face higher risks of developing adverse health outcomes.

Securian is a local insurance company, and for this internship, I was a part of the web management and support team. I had the freedom to pick and choose which specific tactics I wanted to complete and received a lot of support from my mentor when I was stuck on a challenging task.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

I would say don’t be afraid to ask for help whenever necessary, since the professors and TAs are super helpful (especially during office hours). Try to learn and be good at evaluating when you need help. Also, don’t procrastinate (I’m guilty of this too!).

If you want to get involved with big tech, I would highly suggest that you start an extracurricular personal project. On top of good academics and involvement, companies are always intrigued if you are working on side projects. Also, try to get involved outside of computer science too, such as taking new classes or joining clubs that align with your other interests!

What are your plans after graduation?

I’ve been accepted into the integrated program, so I should be finishing my master’s degree in the next year. After that, I'm hoping to find a job in a big-tech related career, and then go to graduate school to get my Ph.D. at some point.