CSC News

February 15, 2004

Mentoring, poetry, music, computer science research -- all part of Machon Gregory's undergrad experience

Machon GregoryMachon Gregory isn’t job hunting this spring – he already has a position in computer security waiting for him with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Gregory was actually hired in August 2000 through a DOD undergraduate training program that provided a scholarship covering his tuition at NC State’s department of computer science.

The tuition support “was great,” he says. “It took the pressure off as far as the money,” and allowed him to pursue other interests as an undergrad, as long as he maintained at least a 3.0 GPA. He’ll be paying back the government with five years of service, and then can decide what to do next with his life.

“I like to do a lot of different things,” he says.

While at NC State, that included helping others achieve their goals. For the past three years, Gregory has served as a mentor through the College of Engineering’s Student Advancement and Retention Teams (START) program, the university’s African American Student Affairs Office, and the local chapter of the National Association of Black Engineers. [more: College of Engineering Minority Engineering Programs]

To make the most of the mentoring experience, Gregory works in tandem with other engineering students. He partners with Donell Singletary, an electrical and computer engineering major, to help freshmen understand academic topics that are often troublesome. “Donell probably is the only senior still fluent in every math class that he took,” Gregory says.

Gregory also takes mentoring beyond classroom basics. This semester, he’s paired up with a fellow mentor, Travis Williams, to offer a program on financing. Their goal is to help the students understand “what they need to look at beyond their freshmen year.” One of the things he encourages others to do is to consider ways to give back; that’s why having a financial plan is important, he says. He shares from what he learned from his father and his own experience.

Gregory was recognized last December for his service and academic achievement with the Brotherhood Award from the NC State University. “It was a surprise” he says.

His interests extend beyond the classroom. Politics and poetry are on his list, and he’s served as one of the coordinators for Freestyle Fanatics, in which participants engage in a ‘battle of wit,’ and as the host of Rhythm and Rhyme, which features a live band and poets.

Machon Gregory, left, with Dr. Robert Fornaro and teammates.In the classroom, Gregory has been able to apply his creativity and energy to independent research projects with Robert Fornaro, professor of computer science and director of the Senior Design Center. For the past two semesters, he has been working on a project to create a microsensor network comprised of MICA Motes [see related story] developed by the University of California-Berkeley, for use in tracking wolves as they are being reintroduced in the wild. He’s working on the project with Fornaro and the North Carolina Zoological Society.

Last semester, his work on the project focused on routing – how to create a dynamic ad-hoc network that can reconfigure itself when new sensors enter the network. “I wrote a paper about it – that was a great experience,” he says.

This semester, the project is the focus of his independent research. “We are actually going to develop the whole system for the tracking,” Gregory says. He's working on the project with fellow seniors Anthony Gray (front, right) and Kevjorik Jones (standing, right), and their professor, Robert Fornaro.

“My computer science classes have prepared me very well,” he says, noting especially the assembly language course taught by Dana Lasher. “This is probably the one that helped me the most because it made me think about what I’m doing in developing programs,” Gregory says. “I think anyone can program, but a computer scientist can develop programs that are well thought out, modular and reusable, more fine-tuned than others.”

Trying his hand at entrepreneurship, during his sophomore and junior years, also proved to be an important experience, he says, for him and his partners in a company that developed Web sites.

“It wasn’t really the making money” that was interesting, he says, but rather, “coming together, figuring out projects, software ideas, how to organize – the system of a business,” he says, adding that he thinks he does want to be an entrepreneur someday. “This offered an excellent view into that without expending a lot of money or facing risk.” He continues to do some Web work and desktop publishing.

Gregory’s NC State experience is an extension of the approach to learning that he developed in high school.

“I wanted to be a marine biologist,” he said of his initial career plans. “I worked toward that between my sophomore and junior (high school) years.” That’s the summer he attended a program at Summer Ventures in Math and Science. He spent the next summer at Tuskegee University in Alabama, studying computer science. In his senior year, he volunteered one afternoon each week at Novartis’ animal health division in Greensboro, working in chemistry.

“I looked for the programs,” he says of his high school experiences, including another that he completed in leadership. And it was on the Internet that he found the DOD scholarship program that got him to NC State and that will launch his career in computer science.

Gregory says he doesn’t think he’s much different from his classmates at James Benson Dudley high school in Greensboro, NC. “We were all student athletes,” he says. “The valedictorian was a cheerleader for four years. One guy that I ran track with went to Carnegie Mellon. Another has close to a 4.0 in accounting; another is a Coke-a-Cola scholar and is presenting research all over the country.”

- rzewnicki -

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