Computer science major talks NASA internship, capstone project
Cody Uehara is a senior computer science major at Pacific Lutheran University. Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, he came to PLU to play football, and eventually found his passion for computer science.
We talked with Uehara about his experiences at PLU and the exciting things he has been working on during his senior year, including his capstone project about autonomous cars and his internship with NASA.
How did you first become interested in computer science?
I originally came to PLU as a business major, and to play football. I had to quit football because of an injury, and I discovered that being a business major was not for me. I spent some time exploring other things and found that I have a passion for computer science. One of my friends who was taking a computer science class at the time recommended I try out an introductory course. After taking that first course, I was hooked. I officially switched my major during my sophomore year, and it has been smooth sailing ever since. I really think the professors are very good in the computer science department, and it’s nice to know them on a personal level. Professor Jeff Caley helped me with my capstone and also in getting my NASA internship. I am very grateful for everything he has done for me.
What kind of work are you doing with NASA through your internship?
It is a full-time job. I work about 40 hours a week. It is a heavy workload, but it is also fun, so it doesn’t feel like work. We are making a simulation for small satellites. I work remotely for the Langley Research Center in Virginia, and my mentor there has really helped me with making connections while working virtually. The three-hour difference in time zones is a bit of a challenge, but it is manageable. One of my biggest takeaways from working with NASA is the importance of always being ready to learn new things. There has been a lot of learning I have had to do on my own, especially in subjects I don’t usually spend a lot of time on as a computer science major, like physics and math. Being excited and open to learning has really helped me in this internship.
How do you manage working as a full-time intern while also being a full-time student?
Prioritizing my mental health has been very important to me. I try to take time away from work and school to wind down and do things I enjoy, like seeing friends or having time to myself in my room to watch tv, just having time set aside for normal hobbies. That has helped a lot. Also, I keep a routine schedule so I stay on track with work and school.
How is your capstone on autonomous cars going?
We are making an autonomous RC car. It uses sensors to know its location. Our process started last year. I started work with Professor Caley early in order to get more done. Over the summer, my partner on the project and I worked with a simulator, and now we get to use the real hardware and work in-person. This project is actually a continuation of a project by a previous capstone group. They finished most of the hardware for the car which has been really helpful to us. Hopefully, after we finish our capstone work, other groups will come and work on it in the future as well.
What are some of your goals for the future?
I plan on graduating this spring. I am not sure where I would like to work yet, but I do know I want to work for an aerospace company. After I graduate I will be applying for those jobs, depending on how long the team needs me at NASA to work on our project. I have really enjoyed working there, and would love to continue that work. Whatever I end up doing after graduation, I would like to stress the support my family has given me in getting to where I am today. I am very grateful for them.