After over a decade working as a minister, College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) alumnus Robert Ross (’19) discovered his calling in math and science. Robert developed a new algorithm for the Drexel Wireless Systems Lab’s Bellyband project while studying independently and pursuing a co-op opportunity, and was a STAR and Goldwater Scholar while attending Drexel. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Robert is now a machine learning engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Robert talked with CCI about why he chose Drexel University and why he decided to switch careers in his 30s.
CCI: Why did you choose Drexel and what made it stand out to you as the place where you wanted to pursue your studies?
Robert Ross: I was already in the Philadelphia area where I lived with my wife and had a part time job, so there was no way I was going to be able to study in another location. That limited me to consider schools in the Philadelphia region. There are a lot of great schools in the Philadelphia area, but not all of them had a place for me as a non-traditional student. Luckily, Drexel University was happy to talk with me and help me plan my education goals.
CCI: Did Drexel’s co-op program influence your decision to apply?
Robert Ross: I did not think about the co-op process when deciding to attend Drexel. Having said that, now that I have graduated and have a chance to reflect, co-op was incredibly valuable and I think it's one of Drexel's crown jewels.
CCI: What made you decide to shift careers from being a minister to working in the technology field?
Robert Ross: When I was a pastor, I was often too busy to reflect on career goals. However, when I was on paternity leave for a month with my firstborn, I was able to gain some perspective. I began to think that math, logic and science could be an alternate line of interest to what I was doing at the time. After paternity leave, I went back to my role as a pastor and continued to focus on work without a second thought until my second child was born 18 months later. I found myself continuing to ponder different career paths. I didn’t know anything about computer science at the time, but some helpful conversations with professors revealed this field was more intriguing to me than I initially thought. I then enrolled in a couple classes at Montgomery County Community College and performed well in those courses.
CCI: With your career experience as a minister, you must have an internal drive to help people, a motivation shared with Drexel’s mission to make the world a better place. What about your current job and continuing studies satisfy your passion for improving society?
Robert Ross: I believe there are two ways to make the world better: you can make people and communities better, or, you can make better tools for people to use. For example, the fact that humans do not kill each other over food anymore likely has just as much to do with innovations in agriculture, as it does with moral advancement on a societal level. I have realized that, through computer science, I can strive to make lives better in a way that is conducive to my skills.
CCI: What is your advice for prospective students considering Drexel, especially for those returning to school in order to switch career paths?
Robert Ross: Take full advantage of the system. Returning students are preparing themselves for some future life that will be directly related to how well they prepare. I encourage returning students to reach out to a professor, teaching assistant or company whenever they have a sense they need to connect.