(Photo retrieved from hmc.edu)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Kenyatta Dumisani, ’21, joins AI club, Black Student Union, develops voting app

Kenyatta Dumisani, ’21, attends in- person and online classes at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont. He is majoring in computer science. 

Q: Why did you attend Harvey Mudd College? 

A: My main consideration was the amount of community that I would have access to, both in my teachers and in my peers.

I’ll start with the first of those. I enjoyed having a tight-knit relationship with my instructors during my time at Country Day over the past 10 years. I found that it helps me learn the best when I can go up to my professors who know my name  and ask them questions. They understand where I’m coming from, and they can really lead me to a variety of different avenues and paths I should take. So, I wanted to replicate that in my college process which is one of the reasons why I came here.

My other reason was because of my peers. I wanted to make sure that there were enough people with similar interests that I can collaborate and work with. At the same time, I didn’t want the community to be too large to the point where I feel lost in a crowd of students. I want my voice to still matter. 

Q: Are your classes online or in person? 

A: Well, some of my classes are still remote as of this moment. Some of the elements of a normal classroom that would be present in previous years are not this year. For example, some of my lectures are recorded and given to me through either a Zoom recording or some other media sharing site. It is a very interesting way to watch a lecture and then come to recitation, which is basically just where a teacher’s assistant or professor will give you a few problems to do in relation to the lecture. Basically, we have to try to understand and work through the material without really having that in person experience of sitting in a lecture. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s just jarring doing it for the first time in college.

 But, despite the fact that it’s a new and different experience, Country Day really prepared us for this. Still, to say the least, it was definitely unnerving, but we pulled through.

 We also have some in-person classes too, so it’s a combination of both. Actually, labs are only available in person. We get that hands-on experience, but only with a lot of procedures like masks and testing every beginning and middle of the week.

Q: What classes are you taking? 

A: I have math, which consists of single-variable calculus and multivariable calculus, a biology laboratory class, intro to chemistry class, special relativity class, an intensive writing course and computer science. 

Q: What is your favorite class? 

A: My favorite is honestly computer science right now. The reason why is because I’m a CS major and computer science is my jam. Our lectures in that class are a laboratory or a lab class of sorts. So, it basically consists of them giving you a problem and you basically just spend two hours trying to code for the solution to this particular problem. I am fascinated with the concept of just getting a prompt with a tad bit of information and just running as far as I can with the skills that I have, learning as many things as I can along the way to eventually get to a solution. That’s probably the most fun that I’ve had in my coursework. With that, my favorite is CS just because it allows me to investigate and problem solve. 

Q: Why did you choose to major in computer science? 

A: Honestly, computers have been something that I’ve dabbled in for a really long time. I remember getting a computer way later than a lot of my friends, and so it was always this fascination that I had with getting my hands on one and figuring out why it was so interesting to the rest of my peers. Once I got one, everything began to break loose. Now, it’s figuring out what makes this thing tick. You go through your settings and then you figure out, “Oh wait, I can code this thing. I can make the colors change on this particular taskbar here,” and that was super cool to me. Then, I was thinking, “What else can I do with this code that makes this computer tick?” The fact that I can control this machine to do a variety of different and interesting things beyond changing the color of the taskbar background hooked me into CS. That curiosity is where it all started.

Q: Do you have a specific career in mind? 

A: One of the ideas that I had for a passion project or a goal that I’m striving toward is developing an app for voter information. It is specifically directed to young voters between the ages of 18 to 27. As I’ve observed and as other scholars have observed, that’s one of the communities that doesn’t really vote too often. As we move toward the future, these laws are going to affect them the most, either adversely or positively.  Yet, we don’t see them engaging with the voting process to decide what these laws and regulations are.

I aim to fix that by making something that brings information to the youth in a way that’s enticing and exciting, inspiring conversation and moving past politics being a touchy subject that stagnates our legal process. I’ve been working on that for a while and I have a few prototypes.

As I develop my knowledge in computer science here at Harvey Mudd, I can really optimize that idea of building something robust that I can actually deliver to consumers and start to incite that positive change I was talking about.

Q: What clubs or extracurricular activities are you doing? 

A: Right now, I’m part of several clubs. I’m in an artificial intelligence development club. I’m not developing the AI that the upperclassmen are, but I’m learning about how it all works. Essentially, they’re using Python to create an AI similar to the Jarvis from Ironman. I’m not allowed to give away too many details but just understand that they’ve got a computer that can think and make decisions for itself. 

But right now, I’m just learning how to fix some of the issues that it has. Hopefully, I will get a chance to optimize it when I am an upperclassman. So it really is a four-year thing if you really want to stick with it.

 This AI club is actually not at Harvey Mudd. It’s at Pomona College. So, we’re part of the five Claremont Colleges, and the clubs from those other schools are also available to us and vice versa.

 I’m also in a hiking club, and that is from Pitzer College. I’m also in the Black Student Union in the five Claremont colleges. I really like clubs like these because it really lets you branch out beyond your small campus. That’s another reason why I chose Harvey Mudd because it’s connected to this huge college system.

Q: What is your housing situation at Harvey Mudd like? 

A: I live on campus. I’m in a dorm called Drinkwater, and it’s the newest dorm to my knowledge. I think it was built around two years ago. As for the design, it’s more akin to the looks of a hotel. Imagine the outside of a Marriott hotel and you are spot on. But on the inside, it has a very interesting color scheme. It’s gray and yellow which, quite honestly, does not match. Especially, the checkerboard carpet, the lounges and the walls are either gray or yellow. Gray and yellow are our school colors.

As for cleanliness, the inside is very nice and clean, and they have people come in weekly to clean the dorms.

There are three floors, and two to three people share a room. The room can sometimes get really hot. That’s because the air conditioning is centralized and there is no air conditioning for every room. Say 72 is the centralized air conditioning, but if you have more than two people in your room as I do, it’s not going to be 72 degrees in your room. A message of mine to the people, if you choose to live at Drinkwater, buy some fans. 

Q: How’s the food? 

A: Compared to some of the other dorms that I’ve been to, the food here is pretty good. Keep in mind, there’s no seasoning for everyone to pass around because they have to import a large quantity.

On a good day, you’ll get pepper and salt. That’s pretty much it with spices. The meat is always dry, too. I swear you can get a cut of meat, put it in sauce and it’ll still end up dry. But the food isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just very mid-tier.

There are other eating options on campus, including what’s called the café, which is basically a glorified version of Starbucks. It’s weird because they actually sell Starbucks coffee. There’s a Starbucks logo on the outside of the door, but they don’t take Starbucks gift cards. I don’t understand why. Another message to the people, if you ever go to the cafe, Starbucks gift cards do not work even though it’s a Starbucks station. 

Q: How was the transition from Country Day to college? 

A: Honestly, pretty seamless considering the fact that I’m switching from a small school to a small school. There wasn’t really much of a jump besides campus size. Now, there’s a travel time between my dorm and my class, and I would have to leave 10 to 15 minutes before my class to get to class on time. I have a skateboard, and they are really popular at Harvey Mudd College. I’m not completely sure why but I think it’s because the campus is too short for a bike, too big to walk, but it’s just right for a skateboard.

In terms of difficulty wise, the classes are a lot more difficult to understand. Still, Country Day really prepared us with note-taking strategies and ways to tackle problems. Also, the amount of work that I have in my first semester here is just about the same as my first semester of senior year. 

Q: What is your advice to the class of 2022?

A: I haven’t been here for too long, but I’d say take good notes, find good friends, be in a good study group and go to office hours. These are the crux of success in college that I had found that had worked for me recently.

You have to find a balance between getting your work done and getting the stuff you want to do done into the same 16 waking hours. I definitely did not do that for the first month, but now, we’re back on track. A message to the people: get a planner. If you’re already using a planner, good for you. If you don’t, get a planner, learn how to manage your time because it’s only going to get more difficult once you get into college.

Harvey Mudd
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— By Garrett Xu

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