#ElonGrad 2020 Spotlight: Jack Amend, Computer Science and Applied Mathematics

In this series, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences is shining the spotlight on distinguished members of the Class of 2020 from a wide array of disciplines.

Jack Amend

A computer science and applied mathematics double-major with a minor in statistics, Amend was awarded the Computer Science Department Service Award for 2020.

Computer Science Department Chair Duke Hutchings said Amend was instrumental in re-establishing a computer science club  —  Elon Society of Computing  —  on Elon’s campus and performed high-quality research that employed both his majors.

What drew you to mathematics and computer science as majors?

I was undecided when I came to Elon. I came in thinking I would major in performing arts or music. My parents are musicians, so I thought I’d follow in their footsteps. I took a statistics course my first semester, and there was some coding in that course, and I wanted to pursue computer science. The connection between math and music is natural.

What topics did you research while an undergraduate?

I began research the second semester of my sophomore year with Associate Professor of Mathematics Chad Awtrey (also the associate director of Undergraduate Research) and participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience the summer after my sophomore year working with smart unmanned aerial vehicles — drones, basically. When I came back to Elon, I worked with Associate Professor of Mathematics Karen Yokley and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Scott Spurlock around computations of gerrymandering.

Over the summer of my junior year, I completed REU at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts using municipal data to create a web app for service requests. That led to two papers I published. I presented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2019 around machine learning, fairness and the subject of creating artificial intelligence that’s fairer and less biased.

How did relationships with your mentors and professors impact your Elon experience?

That made my experience. My most valuable experiences at Elon have come from relationships with my professors and peers. There’s so much to be gained from Elon outside the classroom. Scott Spurlock helped me find a Ph.D. mentor, and I have my Ph.D. work over the next five years planned out. Working with professors who were so excited about their research made me want to do more research further on down the road.

What’s your proudest accomplishment while at Elon?

Rebuilding the computer science club. It was the Interactive Software Club. Another student and I took it on our junior year. I wanted more interaction with classmates and a structured area to learn about things in the industry and graduate school.

Now it’s an official university-recognized organization: Elon Society of Computing — ESC for short, like the “escape” key. This was our first spring as an official campus organization.

What are your future plans?

I’ll be pursuing a doctorate in computer and information science at Temple University in Philadelphia. I’m thankful for the Elon experience and all the things Elon has given me. It’s set me up for the future and I’m excited for these next steps.

What advice would you give to future Elon students?

The advice I’d give is just not to take for granted the relationships you can make with a professor. Take advantage of office hours. Having a relationship outside the teacher-student role made my experience so much better. I was scared to go to office hours at first, but they are so relaxed and welcoming you can walk in and get the help you want. You also get to see them from a different angle and really connect with them.

What’s your favorite Elon tradition?

The luminaries and tree-lighting ceremony, just the camaraderie of everyone being together. It’s a fun space to be in. And the yearly training working at Moseley Center. It was a highlight. We’ve become like a family. We’re really close and work well together. Serving the campus, being the professional face of the university, is really cool.