Bernard Dickens III grew up with computers, teaching himself to program at an early age, and he loves to share that passion with today’s teenagers. So the fourth-year UChicago CS PhD student was a perfect choice for the Generation Google scholarship, an annual program designed to “help students become future leaders in computing and technology by breaking down the barriers that prevent them from entering these fields.”

Last week, Dickens was named as one of 15 recipients of this year’s Generation Google scholarship, receiving funding for the coming year and an invitation to a summer retreat at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

Dickens said that he first found his aptitude for computer science in the online world of Second Life, and progressed to work on projects in cryptography, computer vision, and virtual mentoring as an undergraduate at Morehouse College and during internships with the Department of Defense. At UChicago, he works on security and energy-aware computing with associate professor Hank Hoffmann, primarily on adapting new, faster encryption protocols for use on mobile and energy-constrained devices.

“When I came here, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to focus on, not because I didn’t have any interests, but because everything was interesting,” Dickens said. “Hank was a perfect choice because his research sits at the intersection of several subfields in computer science: approximate computing, energy-aware systems, and navigating complex trade-off spaces to name a few. That allows me to freely explore my interests in cryptography and cybersecurity, file systems, and energy use, all at the same time, all while working towards my degree. He's also a big fan of community outreach and diversity. It’s a perfect fit.”

Outside of his academic work, Dickens co-supervises the Chicago chapter of the Black Data Processing Association, teaching free Saturday courses on programming and computer science to middle school and high school students. After completing his PhD, he plans to continue pursuing education and outreach in parallel with his technical work.

“Teaching is as important to me as my research. It’s a passion I like to focus on,” Dickens said. “I always notice a change in how my students view their future prospects, and I like to think I have a hand in that. Most come in unaware of how powerful computers are, and how prevalent and ubiquitous this technology is in our society. The exposure to CS concepts, the ability to understand how this technology works, gives them a modicum of control over their lives and their situations. The Google scholarship will enable me to continue to support them and the program.”

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