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Shawn Duong

Computer Science and Engineering
Computer Science and Engineering

Why UC Merced?

UC Merced was the natural choice for me. I feel that I could identify with UC Merced's student population; I'm a first-generation college student, an immigrant, and from a low-income background. I was attracted to the financial aid and scholarships offered as well as the low cost of living in the city of Merced, which made college financially feasible for someone like me.

Why Your Major?

I've always felt that computer science was for me. I've been fiddling with computers ever since I was young, and I've always had a knack for being able to break things. Luckily, computer security and hacking are all about breaking things! I'm specifically interested in digital forensics and network security, and I enjoy analyzing attacks and hunting down threats as well as exercising offensive attacks within the network arena (ethically, of course!). It's just what I find really cool and fun to do, and I think it's great that there will always be more for me to learn.

Inspiration and Mentors

I'm just the summation of the influences of all the people around me. I thank my parents, first and foremost, for working hard day and night in an unfamiliar country so that I could one day go to college. I thank my team, IrisSec, for teaching me so much and having so much patience for me, and for always being awesome! I thank everyone I work with at UC Merced Extension for always having my best interests at heart and giving me access to so many opportunities and connections. I thank my professors and TAs for having infinite patience for me these past 3.5 years.

I specifically want to single out and thank Professor Cerpa and PhD student Jothi for my experiences taking a grad class as an undergrad this past semester. Professor Cerpa has truly intellectually challenged me and I've grown a lot as a result (and it's REALLY been a great challenge!), and PhD student Jothi has always treated me with kindness and understanding and has mentored me not just with my research project, but with my life. I appreciate their patience and understanding, and I aspire to have their passion for their art!

Memorable Academic Experience

I've had plenty of memorable academic experiences, from the series of events I hosted for HackMerced where I created some sort of vulnerable system and taught attendees how to hack them ("Hack the Power/Packet/Tracks!"), to staying up night after night to work on my projects for my computer networks class with my classmate (and later, friend) Nathan. Perhaps none are more memorable than my experiences teaching and mentoring at Willie Lewis Brown Jr. Youth Academy (Summer Youth Academy) hosted by UC Merced Extension each summer.

It was so deeply wholesome to see in middle and high school students the same spark that I'd had when I was their age. I'll always remember the middle school student I had who took my coding bootcamp series over Zoom during the middle of the pandemic and created a website to show off their art in a gallery. That student came back the next summer when we hosted the academy in-person and thanked me for my encouragement, because that's what led pushed them to continue doing art.

As much as I impacted the lives of those students, they've impacted mine.

What's Next?

I'm not totally sure yet! I'm about to be on the market pretty soon so it's time I start looking for a job more seriously. I would like to stay in Merced for a little bit longer to work on some personal projects before moving back to Orange County because I miss my family. There's a whole backlog of hijinks and shenanigans I've yet to blog about, and then I should probably join my team, IrisSec, in finishing to prepare for our first hosted CTF in early January. I'm definitely coming back as an alumni in March for HackMerced. In the meanwhile, in the gap after I graduate but before I find a job, I'll probably be working on a series of side projects and blogging about my computer hijinks.

Anything else?

This has been an awesome chapter of my life!

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