UNA Pressroom

Undergraduate Research Experience Leads To Job Offer For Una Grad

Sep. 01, 2016

Michelle Eubanks, UNA, at media@una.edu, 256.765.4392 or 256.606.2033

BJ Wilson, QEP

Undergraduate research paid off in a big way for May 2016 University of North Alabama graduate Vincent "Chuck" Chiriaco. His SHA-1 Collision Attacks with Parallel Computation presentation at a national conference led to a job offer from a software development company.

If you ever met Chuck or saw him give a presentation, you know what a dynamic personality he is. "I was presenting solo at NCUR [National Conferences on Undergraduate Research], and one of the spectators was a project manager for a local company looking to expand their workforce. He enjoyed my presentation, and gave me his card. The following week, he found me on LinkedIn and offered an interview," said Chiriaco. "The workforce came to me, I guess you could say."

Chuck is now a Software Engineer at Software Application Workshop (SAW) in Asheville, North Carolina. He said his tasks vary from hour to hour, and include anything from designing a new feature, "bug" squashing, and reviewing or producing code.

As an undergraduate Chiriaco wasn't enthusiastic about research initially, but grew to be excited about it. "Honestly, research just seemed like 'one more thing I have to do.' But I was required to do it for the Honors Program, so I embraced it to get it done, and it certainly paid off. I loved working with the Computer Science faculty," he said.

Chuck's undergraduate work included a federal internship at the College of Staten Island in 2015. He credits the two and half months he spent at the City University of New York system school with contributing to his success. He was able to work in the program "Research Experience for Undergraduates in Computational Methods in High Performance Computing and Applications in Computer Science." While at College of Staten Island Chiriaco presented research on "Finding Partial Hash Collisions through Brute Force Parallel Programming."

Chuck also praised UNA faculty for their guidance. "My faculty kept pushing me when I had very little reason to want to move on. They were very encouraging in anything that would benefit me as a student and were very patient with the learning process." He mentioned computer science instructors Dr. James Jerkins, Dr. Janet Jenkins, Dr. Jason Watson, and Dr. David Nickels, as well as his professors in the math department, as being especially helpful.

Dr. Lisa Keys-Mathews, director of the university's Quality Enhancement Program, said, "This is a perfect example of the benefit of the undergraduate research experience. The knowledge and skills gained by students in undergraduate research will enhance their career opportunities.

"Chuck is one of several students who credit their job and graduate school opportunities to their undergraduate research. UNA faculty mentors are to be commended for the work they do inside and outside the classroom, but especially related to undergraduate research."

The Quality Enhancement Plan is now in its fifth year at UNA. QEP-Building Success Through Discovery-focuses on engaging students in undergraduate research, defined as the specific reading, data and information collection, analysis, and presentation skills (written or oral) required to successfully participate in problem solving within any given discipline and career.

Chuck, a Gadsden native who graduated from Southside High School, said that he would encourage students to develop strong communication skills.

"A student's best leg up is strong communication skills," he said. "They need to command presence when stepping into a room. My presentation did not necessarily provide bleeding edge results, but it did leave a strong memorable impression on my audience, thus leading to a job offer. If a student can move beyond a screen for true communication, their head will tower above their peers for success."

He also encourages students to join the Honors Program. "It will drive you to settle for nothing but the best," he said.