Penn State student applies passion to both football and engineering

January 28, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Like most computer science and engineering seniors, John Reid, Jr. had an academically rigorous fall semester, balancing four 400-level courses immediately after his summer internship with Intel while keeping his eye on ambitious post-graduation plans. Unlike most engineering students, Reid couldn’t count on weekends for extra time to get ahead on course work; for him, Saturdays were game days. 

Most students might find the dual demands of a Division I sport and a challenging major to be too much, but Reid, a cornerback on the Penn State football team and a data science major in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, sees a natural connection between the two.

“In football, you can work really hard at something and put a lot of time in and improve. And I feel like it’s the same with computer science,” said Reid. “They kind of play off each other because the same type of discipline and hard work you need to have for football is the same type of discipline and hard work you need to have with data science. And you kind of need to increase it.”

According to Reid, playing college football while taking on a computer science major was a path he has been on for a long time. Reid played basketball, football and track all through high school at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, earning numerous accolades for his athletic performance, particularly in football. Then, during his junior year, his high school offered a computer science course, which he took, and he’s been hooked ever since. 

In fact, learning how to code in the classroom wasn’t enough for Reid; he decided to build his own computer by himself. 

“I’m kind of competitive in everything I do, and I needed a powerful computer for gaming. But I didn’t want to just buy a regular computer. I wanted to make my own. So I kind of spent two years or so getting the money together, and getting different computer parts, and then my junior or senior year, I finally put it all together and built it, and I’ve kind of been updating it every summer.”

This ability to push himself has led to multiple opportunities, including a spot in Penn State’s Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) and an internship in Oregon with Intel. While he has known for years that he wanted to be in the field of computer science, these experiences helped him refine his track more specifically. 

“My computer science classes and SROP got me really interested in the machine learning side of everything. I still wanted to program a lot, and I wanted to keep all my comp-sci classes, but I wanted to pick up more statistics classes so I could understand a lot better what was going on in the background of machine learning,” said Reid. “When they offered [a data science major within computer science and engineering], it kind of seemed like one of the best options to do that.”

Despite his impressive success to date, it hasn’t always been an easy journey.

“I’m one of the first people in my family to go to college so I didn’t know what to expect. So I thought, ‘I’m going to go into computer science, so I’m going to take computer science classes. I don’t need calculus or physics.’” It didn’t take long for Reid realize this was not the case. “The beginning of my college career was just trying to play catchup with everyone else. My freshman year I felt so behind.”

Reid credits his work ethic, confidence and dedication to the subject and the sport for getting him through adversity.

“You have to really want to do it, to the point where you’re passionate about it. You’ve got to be ready to sacrifice because like, for me, I give up a lot of time to be able to do both [football and engineering], and I want to do both,” said Reid.

He also acknowledged that Penn State provided him with opportunities needed to succeed, saying that it enabled him to play football at a high level while enrolled in a competitive engineering program. He added that the large Penn State community was also appealing to him.

“Everywhere you go, there are people from Penn State, and I think just always having that big network is important.”

After graduation, Reid will be able to count himself among the ranks of successful Penn State alumni, although where exactly is yet to be determined. He hopes to play football at the next level, and after that to do something in the field of software engineering. Wherever the future takes him, the attitude that has helped him through his college career as an athlete and a student surely will lead to continued success. 

“Since there aren’t many football players in engineering, I feel like if I do well here, I can make an impact, and that is a way to separate myself in a good way. I see it as an opportunity, not as a negative. Perspective is everything.”

  • A football player wearing his uniform and holding a football
    IMAGE: Penn State Athletics
  • John Reid working at his laptop
    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated January 28, 2019