CSpotlight: Striving for positive change

B.S. student Peter Ortiz has the goal of creating an accessible and inclusive world, both now as a student leader on campus and in his future career. As a member of the Minnesota Student Association, he is advocating to make the U of M a place where all students can succeed. After graduation, he hopes to use virtual reality to create even more positive change in the world.

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

In high school, I was part of a STEM program at the University of Minnesota, which was an amazing experience! I had the opportunity to tour labs, get hands-on with some of the available tools, learn about current research, and meet students in a wide range of majors. During this program, I fell in love with the location and culture on campus. The U of M also has an excellent computer science program, which was perfect for me as an incoming freshman interested in research and unsure of what I wanted to do in the future.

How did you become interested in computer science?

For a long time now, I have had a goal for my life: to create positive change in the world. My interest in computer science was first sparked in high school when I began taking programming classes. I found I was very passionate about it and was amazed by the versatility and freedom it offered as a creative medium. I also recognized the opportunities it presented and the increasing ease of reaching individuals worldwide. From this point forward, I knew I wanted to study computer science and spent a lot of time learning all I could about different career paths and how I could use what I learn to help people.

You've spent the last two years working as an automotive technician. Does this position have any aspect that contributes to your interest in computer science?

I spent most of my time working independently on multiple-day repairs, taking breaks now and then to do quick maintenance on a car that would come in. While I was there, I found many similarities between the work I was doing and computer science. Car repair is done similarly to how an algorithm executes instructions, there is an order and a flow to it. When repairing a car, you take parts out in a certain order, remove the broken part, replace it with a new part, then put all the pieces back together in a specific order. As I got into more complex repairs, I was introduced to another level of car repair. These repairs required me to diagnose computer-related problems. This was interesting to me because I had never seen the code which ensured certain systems in a car ran. What struck me was that these programs were mostly safety-related, such as vehicle/weather sensing and engine problems, and they are becoming more and more difficult to understand without some type of hands-on experience with computers.

What will you be working on at your upcoming internship at Metavention?

I will be working as a software engineer intern. I am very excited for the opportunity and am looking forward to working with the team on their Integrated Radio Frequency Denervation System to facilitate hepatic denervation. This is a unique treatment aimed at permanently disrupting overactive sympathetic nerves which may result in improved blood sugar control, reduced blood pressure and improvement in other metabolic diseases.

How did you become a student Senator for the Minnesota Student Association?

When the University went online in the spring of 2020, it was a difficult shift for a lot of students. After hearing about the role the student senate played in ensuring an easier transition, I jumped at the opportunity to run in the next election. I wanted to contribute to making the U a more accessible and inclusive place for everyone. As we move back into in-person classes, I hope to to be a voice for those who have benefited from new resources and practices put in place for online learning to ensure a smooth transition to normalcy for everyone.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

Work with other people as much as you can. Networking and collaborating on projects will open you up to new opportunities. Also, don’t get discouraged during the hard parts of the learning process. You will have ups and downs, but what you’ll find is that, long-term, there will be an upward slope to mastery as you learn more things!

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I would like to pursue work that combines virtual reality with artificial intelligence or machine learning. I believe virtual reality has great potential to create a more accessible and inclusive world if navigated correctly. Eventually, I would like to start my own company in this field!