A New Day in Computer Science

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kylie Moden helps students during TECH Camp as they try to keep their hand-made boat afloat.

Passions of two students transforming Trinity University department

by Mary Denny

SAN ANTONIO – Something’s happening here.  It’s exciting. It’s forceful. It’s enterprising.  And it’s due in large part to an infusion of energy, enthusiasm, and yes, expertise, from two students: Kylie Moden, a first-year student from Austin, and Ashton-Drake Giddings, a transfer junior from St. Philips College in San Antonio.

And according to Paul Myers, professor and chair of computer science, these two type-A computer whizzes are having a “transformative effect” on the department.

Moden, whose family encouraged her to pursue the sciences from an early age, wanted to be a doctor. But after discovering computer science, her aspirations changed. She chose the field of computer science “because of the way you are able to solve problems­­—any problem—with computers” and Trinity because she felt she “could make a difference here.”

Shortly after arriving on campus, the vivacious teen started a chapter of Women in Computing —it currently boasts 25 members, a few of whom are men. Next, she wrote and received an Aspire IT grant to fund and lead Trinity Encouraging Computing for Her (TECH Camp) for middle school girls that she held over three weekends this spring.  She also presented her own research at Grace Hopper and the Southeast Women in Computing conference. Taking advantage of Trinity’s entrepreneurial program and 3D Start Up, she is working on an idea that would teach coding to children through story-telling. She is also developing UConvo, a company that takes University networking to a new level.  Designed to help prospective students in their college search and selection, her application will, for example, enable a prospective student interested in baseball to connect with an actual baseball player at the prospective college.

Although Moden has an obvious passion for computing—she will spend the summer interning at Google’s California headquarters—computers are not her only interest. She plays flute in Trinity’s Wind Ensemble, takes piano lessons, is studying Chinese—she hopes to study abroad in China—and plans to minor or double major in entrepreneurship.

Giddings, in contrast, was not introduced to the world of computer science until high school, when he graduated from Harlandale High School from Microsoft Academy and obtained Windows 7 and Configuring Certification. He earned an associates degree in network security administration at St. Philips College before transferring to Trinity. 

Once at Trinity, Giddings lost no time pursuing his passion for cyber security. He founded the Trinity Tech Tigers, an information security and assurance club/team, that promotes security and good practices and competes in local, regional, and national competitions. He placed in the top 10 in North America in the CyberLympics in 2013 and led the Trinity Tech Tigers to a second place victory in the TexSaw UT Dallas Cyber Security Competition the same year. This spring, Giddings led a three-man team that qualified for the South West Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC), a first for Trinity.  The accomplishment is especially notable in that most teams are comprised of eight members, many of whom are graduate students.

Giddings says he is drawn to the field of cyber security because “there are always new challenges between hackers and defenders.” When he’s not immersed in staying two, three, or four steps ahead of the most sophisticated hackers, Giddings finds time to enjoy music and sports, especially baseball, football, soccer, bike riding, and weight lifting.  In the immediate future, he is looking for an internship in the field.  He is perfectly situated for such a position, as San Antonio is the number two city in the nation—second only to Washington, D.C. — for cyber security.  Giddings’ ultimate goal is to become a security analyst and start his own security company.  

Mary Denny is director of editorial services at Trinity and editor of Trinity magazine. She can be reached at mdenny [at] trinity [dot] edu.