A Mizzou Engineering student has received a $10,000 supplemental stipend from the Koerner Family Foundation. And for Roland Oruche, the funding could not have come at a better time.
Now in his second year of the PhD program in computer science, Oruche was facing financial problems following COVID-19. The virus’s economic fallout impacted his educational funding stream. And it hindered his family’s ability to help. Both of Oruche’s parents are small business owners.
“For a lot of us, COVID-19 has been a huge change,” he said. “For me, it definitely impacted my financials. I am very appreciative to the Koerner Family Foundation for what they’re doing—really giving supplemental funding to people who need it.”
The Koerner Family Foundation aims to inspire future generations of research-oriented engineers, encouraging students to earn doctoral degrees in engineering and put their skills to use in the United States.
A graduate of the IT Program at Mizzou Engineering, Oruche’s road to research has been a winding one.
From IT to Graduate School
Oruche grew up in a small town outside of Chicago. As a teen, he excelled in social studies and planned to pursue law school. Then, during his senior year, he stumbled upon a website that allowed him to learn basic programming.
“I picked that up, and I didn’t look back,” he said. “That summer, I worked on projects quite a bit, getting up early and grinding away for hours practicing my programming skills. At that point, I realized that I wanted to get into computer science because I saw all of the cool things that you can create. It’s inspiring to understand what companies are doing and understand the impact technology can make in communities and around the world.”
He enrolled in the IT Program planning to enter the workforce after graduation. Then, with encouragement from Associate Professor Prasad Calyam, he applied to Mizzou Engineering’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program in consumer network technologies.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the REU program introduces younger college students to research, giving them opportunities to solve real-world problems. It’s a highly selective program for students from prestigious research universities and smaller colleges in Missouri.
During his REU, Oruche worked with a team to research virtual reality classroom experiences for students on the autism spectrum. Specifically, they looked into cyber risks within virtual environments.
“Working on those specific issues allowed me to really understand some of the concepts that are the driving forces behind technology and to understand the core concepts and technologies used today,” he said.
Best of Both World
While the IT Program is mainly designed to prepare students for in-demand industry jobs, Oruche said it also gave him a good foundation for graduate school.
The IT Program provided him the opportunity to explore various aspects of technology, such as software development and cybersecurity.
At the same time, he was able explore the research side. Following the REU, Oruche worked with Calyam in the Virtualization Multimedia and Networking (VIMAN) Lab. As an undergraduate in the lab, he researched cloud computing, networking and artificial intelligence.
“It was the positive environment of that lab that allowed me to pursue my graduate studies at Mizzou,” he said. “At this point, as a PhD student, I’m now working with Dr. Calyam’s in the CERI Center.”
In the Mizzou CERI Center for Cyber Education, Research and Infrastructure, Oruche focuses on machine learning, recommending systems and human-computer interactions.
Ultimately, Oruche hopes to use his IT and computer science education to work in research and development. “My goal is to utilize my skills to the best extent and pursue cutting-edge research to solve real-world problems.”