Computer science grad earns cybersecurity scholarship, focuses on ‘conscientious’ technology

Tam Nguyen

Balancing his studies with military service while at UMSL, Tam Nguyen pushed himself academically as he explored ways in which technology and “the human element” can come together. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Tam Nguyen credits marathon running for giving him the confidence to attend the University of Missouri–St. Louis while also working full-time for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Tam Nguyen

Newly minted UMSL alumnus Tam Nguyen, an avid marathon runner, strikes an appropriate pose. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“Some people don’t even get to use their G.I. Bill benefits because it’s such a huge challenge to study and work in the military at the same time,” said the recently graduated computer science major. “They don’t have the energy to continue studying — that was my thinking. But then I started running marathons and realized I had the durability and endurance to get through stressful times. Fitness helps me say to myself, ‘Tam, you’ve got it, you’ve finished a marathon, you can keep pushing.’”

Applying athletic grit to academics has paid off for Nguyen. In 2016 he was honored with the Society State of Mind Award from the National Society of Leadership and Success, recognized as one of the Who’s Who among students across the nation and awarded a Global Cybersecurity Scholarship from Cisco. On top of that, he received advanced admission to North Carolina State University’s master in computer science program, which he is starting this semester.

“On the global scale, there are a lot of people competing for this scholarship,” Nguyen said. “It’s a huge honor to have Cisco realize my potential and give me a chance and their endorsement. It’s one of the big names in physical network security, and even at UMSL, when you go to the server room, you’ll see all things Cisco.”

The Cisco Global Cybersecurity Scholarship program is designed to increase the pool of talent with critical cybersecurity proficiency. It offers training, mentoring and testing to help programmers hone the advanced skills needed for a career in IT.

Although Nguyen is interested in all avenues that allow him to expand his skill base in technology, he believes personal growth and holistic learning to be just as important.

Tam Nguyen at his UMSL graduation

Tom Nguyen’s mother joined him last month as he celebrated his graduation at UMSL commencement. (Photo courtesy of Tam Nguyen)

“The philosophy at UMSL is about more than giving you the knowledge to get a job when you leave — they want you to become a better person,” Nguyen said. “No matter what technology we dream up in the future, it has to pay attention to the human element and being conscientious.”

Nguyen’s focus on using technology to better the human condition is apparent in his aspirations of using data science to better treat sports injuries. He sees a disconnect between the amount of data companies and medical professionals can access and the amount of injuries that still occur.

That focus drove his involvement in Project LOLA during his time at UMSL, with Nguyen and classmates working to program a next-generation robot in ways that can enhance health care. The College of Education‘s Keith Miller tasked the team with teaching “LOLA” the robot to perform smart tracking of medicine consumption, basic first-aid assessment and conversation.

“Professor Miller asked us to develop a whole library of moves and features,” Nguyen said.

The group demonstrated LOLA’s capabilities at several recent hackathon events at UMSL and other locations in St. Louis. They’ve also videotaped demos, including this instance of UMSL graduate student Dheeraj Arremsetty interacting with the robot, who even performs a dance between more serious and health-focused segments.

“Soon everything will be internet-enabled,” Nguyen said. “Your fridge, your oven, anything you can put a chip into can be connected to the internet with the goal of collecting usable data. In the future, the problem will be that there’ll be more data than we can handle. Data science helps companies extract useful information from the data. And as an ironman, I hope to use data from wearable devices to help prevent common athletic injuries.”

While Nguyen is excited to continue his education in North Carolina State University, he will miss the community he found here at UMSL.

“A lot of friends in and out of the Coast Guard have asked me about UMSL,” Nguyen said. “They’re on the fence about continuing their education like I was, and they ask me what I like about the place. I tell them it’s a place where you can fully grow as a person, and that’s from the bottom of my heart. And the Veterans Center has been very, very supportive.”

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