The i.am Angel Foundation is proud of all of our scholars. From CalState LA to Brown University, these students have earned their right to an i.am Scholarship. One of those students, Mariano Bonilla, is currently attending USC and majoring in Computational Physics and Computer Science.
Throughout his time in high school, Mariano was involved in various organizations including i.am College Track and his school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team which he led as team president his senior year. While being involved in these programs, he was exposed to many STEM opportunities that were available. With that exposure came a passion and desire to pursue a college degree in STEM. Now in his 4th year at USC, he’s looking to graduate soon and become a leader in the technology workforce.
The interview below was written and conducted by Kevin Balderrama from the STEM Academy of Boyle Heights.
I.am Angel Foundation: What is your major?
Mariano Bonilla: Computational Physics and Computer Science.
IAA: When did you find out that you wanted to pursue this major?
MB: When I was a freshman in college.
IAA: How has the i.am Angel Foundation helped you in your academic achievements?
MB: They provide a scholarship that helps pay for school and allows me to not have to work a lot.
IAA: What advantages did you have from being part of i.am College Track?
MB: When compared to my peers, I was a lot more knowledgeable in the college application process. With College Track, we have staff members that give orientations to support us. They also help by hosting workshops and talks where we are able to ask different questions regarding college and career readiness.
IAA: Are you still involved with the FRC team and/or i.am College Track?
MB: Yes I am still involved with both. FRC I have been involved with since graduating. Every year I usually go back and help in whatever form I can, whether it be helping with engineering workshops, programming, or logistics. And with College Track it’s a 10 year program where I’m still involved until I graduate from college, receiving counseling help and being able to use the center in Boyle Heights to work on homework or study.
IAA: Why did you decide to come to USC?
MB: When I was a freshman, I took a physics course and I enjoyed it. Being in FRC, you learn about engineering and I didn’t want to just study physics because I liked programming as well. I wanted to do a combination of both and USC was a college that offered that major, a physics and computer science major. I also had two friends that attended USC that talked about entrepreneurial orientation where they show students to pursue projects beyond academics and that made it an interesting choice.
IAA: Did you get accepted into other colleges?
MB: Yes a couple, including UC Irvine, Cal Poly Pomona and San Jose State University.
IAA: What keeps you motivated?
MB: A desire to do cool stuff in technology, and to be able to have a career where I am able to control my output. For example, I don’t want to have a career where I am not happy or not being productive. So the desire to make cool things for people to use and pursuing a career that makes me happy is what keeps me motivated.
IAA: What campus resources do you use at USC?
MB: They have a program called VARC where they offer workshops for different classes. That is something that I took advantage of this semester. It offers math courses and workshops with other classmates to solve problems. Since I have a lot of theory based classes, this program taught us how to approach different problems.
IAA: Do you enjoy going to the USC?
MB: Definitely. It’s fairly close to the home I grew up in but now I live across from the campus. I am able to take advantage of the cool stuff that is happening on campus, I usually eat at the dining hall or I go to the different events that they host. They usually have concerts or different events that you can go to hang out with friends and that’s pretty cool.
IAA: Have you done any internships so far? If so, with who?
MB: Yes I have. I interned with the Keck School of Medicine Medical Center and IBM in San Jose.
IAA: What are some of the tasks you have done during your internships?
MB: At the Medical Center, my work revolved around network security. One thing that I was a part of was upgrading the network switches and putting patches on the networks, so I learned a lot about information security and how to identify different problems. I also learned how to re-log different tools like a package tracer. This was different for me because before I only worked on actual programming and not network security, so a lot of my work revolves around setting up networks at the hospital. And with IBM, my job is to make sure my team’s code does not have any bugs. If I find bugs in the code, we create patches to fix them.
IAA: Are you hopeful these internships will lead to a job with either company after you graduate?
MB: Yeah I think the option is there. Right now, I’m exploring different companies with different approaches to see where I fit in. I may perhaps return and I may not, it all depends on the future experiences that I have.
IAA: When is your expected graduation date?
MB: Its May 2020, but I’m still not sure if I want to graduate then or take another semester with more advanced computer science courses. It all depends on how I feel but for the moment it’s May 2020.