Matt McCaleb ′14
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Major: Computer Science
Research interests: bioinformatics, virtual and augmented reality
Extracurricular activities: scholarship chair of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, co-president of the Computer Science Club, PA Leader, tutor for Computer Science Department, AMC Programming Competitions, service trips to the Dominican Republic during spring and summer breaks
Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.
My road to Rhodes was not a direct route. After an extensive college search, I settled upon the engineering school at Vanderbilt University. However, after experiencing several service mission trips to the Dominican Republic during my high school career, I realized that I wasn’t ready for college just yet. Instead, I was first called to spend a year abroad working in a foreign country. After working for six months in the mountains of Peru, I knew that I wanted to go to a school with a community that was as committed to making a positive impact in the world as I was, and Rhodes fit the bill. As with many other people, my visit to Rhodes was the deciding factor. I had the chance to meet President Troutt and learn about Rhodes’ great acceptance rates and relationships with graduate schools, as well as explore the beautiful campus. The opportunity to play another season of football and still be a part of such an open and accepting community that obviously respected each other definitely helped, as did the research opportunities at St. Jude and with professors. Finally, I knew that if I went to Vanderbilt, I would be locked into a very structured engineering program, while at Rhodes, I would have opportunities to expand my horizons and explore my interests in history, religion, and even political science, which would greatly enrich my college experience.
How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes College?
Other than the obvious change from a pre-med history major to computer science, Rhodes has allowed me to grow into a more independent and globally conscious person. Throughout high school, I was typically bored with the unchallenging classwork and started to develop poor work habits. The ability to explore new disciplines in every department has allowed me to expand my academic horizons and find subjects that interest and challenge me. Whether that was taking an African American studies class or learning about Gandhi, these courses forced me to push myself academically and broaden my perspective of the world.
Tell us a little bit about your computer science research with Dr. Betsy Sanders.
In 2012, I was able to work with Dr. Sanders on a project exploring human spatial interactions in virtual environments using Microsoft Kinect. The goal of the project was to create an inexpensive method of navigating 3D space while using a virtual headset. We created an algorithm that implemented the Kinect’s skeletal tracking, which allows users to move about in a virtual world by walking in place. Our method compared favorably to using a joystick and other walking in place methods. We presented our methods in a conference in Los Angeles in August 2012.
This summer you interned at St. Jude in the computational biology department. Describe this experience.
One of the key factors in my decision to attend Rhodes was its proximity to St. Jude. Interning there this summer was an amazing experience. St. Jude is a vibrant community that is full of incredibly intelligent and caring people who are dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families. The greatest part of this internship was getting the chance to meet and work alongside the doctors and research staff. I interned in the computational biology department, and my work mainly consisted of analyzing large sets of DNA data trying to detect mutations and identify patterns within certain forms of cancer. To say I was stretched a bit working alongside Ph.D. candidates would be a bit of an understatement, but it was a great challenge to undertake and learn from. While I learned a lot from working with this department specifically, my greatest takeaway was learning about the different professions, responsibilities, and opportunities available in a research hospital, through daily lectures and lunches with different departments. Whatever direction I take in my career, this on-the-job training with a group of brilliant researchers in such an exceptional, nationally known facility will be a wonderful reference point going forward.
Compiled by Ali Swee ‘16