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Matthew Patton, a senior Marquis Scholar from Los Alamos, N.Mex., is one of only eight undergraduates nationally to receive a Microsoft Scholarship Award, recognizing him as one of the very top computer science students in the United States.

The Microsoft scholarship program is administered by Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE), the international honor society for the computer sciences. The annual awards are worth $1,000. Patton will be formally honored by Microsoft Corporation and UPE at the society’s annual convention March 22 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Earlier Patton gained national recognition as one of only five computer science majors receiving Goldwater Scholarships, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering.

“He’s a phenomenal student,” says William Collins, associate professor and head of computer science. “He excels across the board. He has a 4.0 (grade point average) as a senior, which means he has received an ‘A’ in every course he has taken. I wish we had a hundred more Matt Pattons.”

Says Patton, “If you demonstrate a real desire to learn, there definitely are opportunities available at Lafayette. The professors very much like to see students who are eager to apply themselves. If you have a thirst for learning, they will notice and give you lots of attention.”

Patton showed great promise from the start of his Lafayette experience, when he moved up to Principles of Computer Science II after one week. “Normally, we don’t allow that, but in Matt’s case, I’m glad we did,” says Collins.

Patton also conducted research on parallel computing with Chun Wai Liew, assistant professor of computer science, in just his second semester at Lafayette, starting in March and continuing for eight weeks over the summer. “It’s very unusual for computer science majors to be able to start research after just one year,” Collins notes. In April, 2000, Patton presented findings from the project at the 14th annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research. He was among 27 Lafayette students at the conference, which was hosted by the University of Montana.

In another research project under Liew’s direction, Patton teamed up with Dan Huber ’02 Morrisville, Pa., to learn how to simulate real-world systems on a computer. As a case study, the students created a simulation of a traffic intersection.

“Simulation is a large field, and I like how Professor Liew gave us the liberty to explore whatever aspects of this area of computer science caught Dan’s and my interest,” says Patton. “We had a good deal of autonomy, so we explored what interests us and learned on our own.

“Lafayette is extremely conducive to projects like this. If the college had a graduate program, the professors would be distracted with the graduate students and wouldn’t be nearly as interested in doing cool projects like this with undergraduates, especially not with underclassmen.”

Under Liew’s guidance, Patton is doing a senior honors thesis on “Genetic Algorithms on Discontinuous Search Spaces.” Patton says, “It’s been interesting to see how the thesis has changed as we’ve moved along. We started out on one specific problem and found that it actually was more easily solved than we thought, so we broadened what we were looking at to a more general problem. At times it’s frustrating because it seems like little progress is being made, but that’s the nature of research.”

According to Patton, the numerous opportunities to pursue independent research have greatly enhanced his academic career at Lafayette.

“It’s nice because there’s liberty to explore what interests you. Personally, I learn much better when I’m learning on my own – in a situation where somebody’s checking up on me and directing me, but in my own pursuit. It’s both self-motivated and self-paced, which makes it a much more efficient learning experience,” he says.

“In the case of Professor Liew, my projects with him all came out of my expressing an interest to go beyond the norm. It’s certainly been my experience that if I want to explore an area of computer science more deeply, the resources will be available at Lafayette.”

Patton also has taken advantage of academic opportunities outside his major. He conducted graph theory research under Gary R. Gordon, professor of mathematics, through Lafayette’s Research Experience for Undergraduates, an intensive eight-week summer research program.

During a January interim session between regular semesters, Patton studied in Israel and Jordan for “The History and Politics of Israel,” a three-week course with Howard J. Marblestone, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, and Ilan Peleg, Charles A. Dana Professor of Government and Law. He also is in his third semester of independent study of ancient and New Testament Greek under Marblestone, as well as taking informal lessons in Biblical Hebrew.

“Besides his amazing abilities in computers and languages, Matthew is a student in love with learning, a young man of great thoughtfulness, and a person with whom I study and talk as an equal,” says Marblestone. “I have never met his like, and I don’t expect to again.”

Lafayette has awarded Patton several honors, including the Benjamin F. Barge Mathematical Prize, awarded annually to first-year students or sophomores in recognition for excellence in mathematics; the Eugene P. Chase Phi Beta Kappa Prize, given to a sophomore who has demonstrated scholarship as a first-year student; and the Class of 1884 R.B. Youngman Greek Prize, awarded to a student who has demonstrated a high degree of proficiency in Greek.

In addition to excelling in the classroom, Patton is president of Lafayette Christian Fellowship and plays piano for its weekly gatherings. He is a former captain of the varsity fencing team and once served as treasurer of the Lafayette chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Categorized in: Academic News