Spartan Showcase: Undergraduate Research Clarifies Professional Aspirations

Headshot, Andrew McDonald

Andrew McDonald, Senior, Majors: Computer Science, Advanced Mathematics, and Statistics.

Rising fourth-year Michigan State University (MSU) student, Andrew McDonald, knows much about balancing responsibilities in the pursuit of his goals. Triple majoring through the College of Natural Science, the College of Engineering and the Honors College, McDonald is studying computer science, advanced mathematics, and statistics.

In addition to academics, McDonald works as a teaching assistant, researcher, and volunteer, while spending his free time doing a plethora of outdoor activities. He is particularly passionate about his outreach work, collaborating with the computer science department to introduce those from underserved communities to the field. McDonald also lends his expertise to the Girls Who Code program, which supports sixth through eighth-grade girls passionate about coding.

“It’s natural to frame these applications as another aspect of academic work [and responsibility],” McDonald said, acknowledging his busy schedule. However, he recommends reframing one’s extracurricular activities not as resume boosters or obligations but instead as opportunities for personal growth. To McDonald, each of these experiences allowed him to apply his education to the real world and support his community.

As a testament to his dedication to research and STEM, McDonald was named a 2021 recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. This highly competitive national award recognizes scholars with the potential for great contributions to the fields of science, mathematics, or engineering by subsidizing their tuition and living expenses.

McDonald cites his research work with Professor Vaibhav Srivastava for the Distributed Cyber-Physical Human Systems (D-CYPHER) Lab as some of his most formative work. He began this research experience through the Honors College’s Professorial Assistantship (PA) program his first year at MSU. He is particularly interested in the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and climate change solutions. One of his most notable projects was research utilizing environmental systems and monitoring to determine areas that may be “hotspots” for wildfires.

As a result of this project, McDonald was able to present his work at an AI conference. This experience in writing, teaching, and presenting solidified his decision to pursue graduate school and research over a career in industry. He has continued researching, with another of his projects published by the International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

Though research has been integral to his professional development, McDonald also credits his time in the classroom with sharpening his professional acumen. He feels that his transition from the classroom to the lab is very natural, emphasizing that he often applies formulas discussed in class to his lab work. His time with the D-CYPHER Lab also helps him understand the real-world applications of his studies.

Beyond the academic, one of the aspects he values most about MSU is the culture of collaboration. The opportunity for community-building and mutual growth lets him build meaningful personal and professional relationships with his peers and professors. His time at MSU has highlighted the value of teamwork and communication, in the classroom and beyond.

“Push yourself but don’t be afraid to ask for help,” emphasized McDonald. Going outside of one’s comfort zone allows one to grow as an individual and professional; however, he believes that there is an undeniable strength in reaching out to an individual’s community for help and support.

By Sammi Williams
Sammi Williams Social Relations and Policy Major