IST graduate earns two degrees in four years, influences family tradition

Courtney Allen
August 14, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —Few students can say that they’ve earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in four years. Even fewer can pass the torch on to their younger sibling when they graduate.

Lawrence Wu, a 2018 College of Information Sciences and Technology graduate, is one of the few who can say both.

After earning both a bachelor of science in information science and technology and a master of science in computer science in just four years, Lawrence is embarking on his career as a communications analyst with the Federal Reserve Board. His brother Justin will follow his path in the College of IST as an incoming student majoring in cybersecurity analytics and operations this fall.

Through his own experiences, Lawrence is helping Justin navigate the new academic environment.

"I hope that my brother can continue my work, take my advice to build a better schedule, and start researching his IST interest and possible thesis far sooner than I did," he said.

An accelerated journey through the College of IST

Lawrence earned his degrees through the college’s integrated undergraduate graduate (IUG) program, which allows students to earn the two degrees on an accelerated timeline. He also picked up a minor in supply chain management, which he says equipped him with fundamental business principles that bring a new understanding to his degrees.

"IST, in my opinion, is applying technology to a business setting,” he said. “Before we even make it faster, we have to make it first. That experience brings together business and IST."

When he began the IUG program, he worked to ensure that he could manage his increasingly busy schedule. He credits his advisor Dinghao Wu (no relation), associate professor in IST, for providing guidance and structure that allowed him to balance his time.

"He's determined,” said Wu. “Lawrence has great technical skills, and I think his communication skills and planning will help his career.”

Although Lawrence was persistent in achieving his dual degree aspirations, initially, it was not part of his academic plan.

"My advisers worked a lot and helped me out even more," he said. "It was kind of a last-minute suggestion, so I did it on the whim.”

Completing a thesis in two months

Lawrence’s graduate thesis focused on the topic of block chain smart contracts in megacity logistics. Block chain is a digital ledger where cryptocurrency transactions are publicly recorded. Despite cryptocurrency’s growing popularity, he noted, there has been little research done in the field.

"I was looking for a solid topic and block chain during that time just didn't have a lot of knowledge or research on it floating around," he said.

He was able to draw from past experiences, however, to understand the topic quite simply. Since high school, he has been conducting his own projects outside of school that consisted of running server systems that operate behind many computer programs. He credits these projects as shaping his future.

“I had five to eight servers running on average and that experience was exactly what [employers] were looking for,” he said.

He also stated that employers recognized his enthusiasm and confidence. He credits instructors such as Nick Giacobe, assistant teaching professor and director of undergraduate programs in the College of IST, for encouraging him to actively seek out employers and make himself known.

Keeping it in the family

Lawrence has always had an educational drive that he says stems from his father, a college professor in California. He wanted the new experience of living on the east coast, and his father’s familiarity with the University solidified his decision to make the cross-country journey.

He credits his time on campus with shaping his future, and he hopes that it will do the same for his brother, Justin.

Justin noted that Lawrence has influenced him for years, as he watched his older brother’s higher education journey. However, Justin plans to follow his own path in IST.

He has been completing the Certified Software Tester certifications and for years has been participating in competitions that task users with thwarting cyberattacks, known as Capture the Flag (CTF) programs.

"It started off with a bunch of [Lawrence’s] friends,” said Justin. “I had eventually got quite good at longer more in depth CTFs, and ended up taking second place in crypto CTF.”

Learning as you go

Now a college graduate, Lawrence reflected on the times when he was in high school, a student generally curious by nature. This trait led him to successfully navigate through the College of IST's curriculum.

"When I first started in high school, like Justin, I was always thinking 'How was this website made?' 'How is this possible?' 'How can it run that scale?'" said Lawrence. "I just had to figure it out … You learn as you go."

He said that this way of thinking helped him in his college career.

Outside the classroom, Lawrence participated in IST's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. The program pairs undergraduate students and faculty in summer long projects that encourage science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career development.

He also ran an online startup business that refurbished IBM Thinkpad programs and other computers with all an all open-source code, including flash code like BIOS, which rewrites information onto CDs and floppy discs. He then sold them to others wanting them.

"These outside projects taught me a lot about what I should do in a real job. They gave me practical experience,” he said.

As for the advice he shares with Justin and new IST students, Lawrence encourages students to get involved early and don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know.

“Projects that you do for fun truly count. For people who don’t know yet they want to do, [my advice is] go to clubs and try your own projects,” he said. “There might be a lot to learn but that’s how you learn.”

  • Lawrence Wu

    Lawrence Wu, a 2018 College of Information Sciences and Technology graduate, earned two degrees in four years through the college's integrated undergraduate graduate (IUG) program. Now, his brother Justin is following in his footsteps as an incoming student to IST, majoring in cybersecurity analytics and operations.

    IMAGE: provided
Last Updated August 30, 2018