Skyler Whorton, '13

Pepperell, MA

Year of Graduation
2011, 2013

BS, Computer Science; MS, Computer Science

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
I found out about WPI’s acclaimed programs in science and technology after attending a high school math competition there. Through the course of applying to college in my junior year of high school, I got to take an Admissions tour of WPI and was immediately smitten. I knew it was where I wanted to go because everything about the campus, staff, and students made me feel comfortable, welcomed, and excited about the academic programs and extracurricular activities.

How was WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, beneficial to you during your time at WPI?
The “Lehr und Kunst” motto was an intrinsic part of my academics at WPI. Every course emphasized the balance of learning fundamental concepts with their applications towards solving real problems. I’ve found this approach immensely beneficial to my work and internship experiences, where the development of practical skills in my courses meant I could easily get up to speed quickly with new tools and methods. The project-based assignments in many of my courses served as a great introduction to working in teams, a necessary ingredient of all large-scale software projects.

What do you think are WPI’s greatest strengths?
WPI is great when it comes to providing a wealth of opportunities — academic, leadership, social, professional, community service, artistic, you name it – to those who seek them. The community is just the right size so that students can get involved in anything they want. There’s a culture of innovation and a wealth of supporting resources that allow students to pursue their own original ideas as well, whether it’s the subject of their senior project, graduate thesis, or a new club on campus.

What were your research projects at WPI?
As an undergraduate, I completed a proof-of-concept prototype for software-accelerated 3D graphics on an FPGA. The main idea was to explore development of portable graphics platforms for mobile and embedded devices.
In my Master’s program, I was advised by professor Neil Heffernan to research more intelligent methods of assessing K-12 students’ mathematics knowledge. I worked in a team of graduate students to develop the web software necessary to conduct an efficacy study of our method.

How did WPI’s Computer Science professors impact your studies and your life?
Deeply and profoundly. My advisor, Neil Heffernan, taught me a great deal about innovation, entrepreneurship, and how to develop useful software. Because of him, I find myself drawn to start-up environments with fast-paced development cycles. I had the great fortune to complete two courses (“Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining” and “Machine Learning”) with Prof. Carolina Ruiz, who was singularly responsible for stimulating my interest in the field of data science and statistical approaches to problem solving. Due to her influence on my technical interests, I decided to apply for the Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good summer fellowship. It has been a professionally formative experience for which I’m very grateful. Professors Gary Pollice and George Heineman taught me much of what I know about theory and design of software systems, i.e., “software engineering.” Their pragmatic instruction has firmly grounded my practice as a software engineer in the fundamentals of sound design.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participated in at WPI: 

  • Sigma Pi Fraternity
  • Interfraternity Council
  • Campus Hearing Board
  • Towers Newspaper

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • WPI Investing in Ideas with Impact (i3) 2013 entrepreneurial pitch competition finalist
  • Tied, Best Poster, M.S. in Computer Science, Graduate Research Achievement Day 2013, WPI
  • National Science Foundation GK-12 Research Fellowship, WPI (2011-2013)

What have you been up to since graduating from WPI? How has your experience at WPI shaped your post-graduation activities?
In my last months at WPI, I learned about and applied to a summer program for aspiring data scientists who want to apply their skills to social problems in the public sector, The Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Fellowship. I’m one of 36 fellows from around the world accepted to the inaugural year of the program. Since June, I’ve been in Chicago working in a small interdisciplinary team on a project to analyze and propose data-driven strategies to reverse the foreclosure crisis in the Chicago metropolitan area. I’m developing a web-based tool that will allow Cook County Land Bank to make informed decisions about which properties to acquire to maximize economic impact in neighborhoods at risk of decline.

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