December 18, 2023

19-year-old double major graduates from FMU with prestigious experience and lofty goals

19-year-old double major graduates from FMU with prestigious experience and lofty goals

Computer science and math double major Austin Freeman received his diploma at FMU’s commencement ceremonies this weekend. At just 19 years old, Freeman is getting an early jumpstart to what promises to be a prosperous career in the computer science industry.


The Florence native first became interested in FMU after participating in the dual enrollment program. Not only did it help him get a major head start on his degree progress, but it also helped him feel certain that FMU would be a good fit – making his decision of where to attend college quite simple. It also helped Freeman enter college with a sure plan. His coursework aided in steering him towards his computer science and math majors, eliminating the period of time where many freshmen sample different fields to figure out what exactly they want to do.


“I did a lot of coursework as a dual enrollment student that was very beneficial,” Freeman said. “After completing some general ed courses, I was able to get started on some computer science courses. I also took a few math classes, and I noticed that I enjoyed them. It’s pretty common for computer science majors to also do math. So I figured, why not? For me, it was not much extra coursework to make the addition, only around five extra classes. I definitely think that was a good decision.”


One professor had a special impact on Freeman during his undergraduate experience, computer science professor Dr. Padmaja Rao.


“Dr. Rao has been really great with helping me meet all of my degree requirements,” Freeman said. “She really cares about her students and goes beyond just giving assignments. She is invested in them and does things like help people find internships.”


Freeman’s more specialized interest lies with programming. He first became interested in programming through gaming. He enjoyed playing with friends and took pride in using programming to modify the games as he saw fit.


“There are often chances to use programming to make modifications to the game,” Freeman said. “So that’s how I got into computer science. Once I figured out that I could think of something and then have a way to program that idea, that was really exciting.”


Freeman’s academic tenure as an undergraduate student at FMU may have been efficiently brief, but his accolades and achievements are nothing short of stellar. To start, he served as the Vice President of FMU’s computer science club (Association for Computing Machinery), and was a member of Upsilon Pi Epsilon, the International Honor Society for the Computing and Information Disciplines. 


But the most distinguishing achievements lie within his practical experience. As part of his senior Capstone project, he helped lead a team that built the Florence Navigator App, which is currently available for download. The app plays recorded narrations about landmarks as the user drives by them, with the goal of shedding light on the prolific history of the Florence community. 


Additionally, Freeman completed a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) funded by the National Science Foundation at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. He spent 10 weeks at the university researching programming languages and learning how to optimize them.


“It was a really good experience for my career because it helped me determine my next step, which is to pursue a PhD in programming languages,” Freeman said. “I was so excited to have that opportunity. I had previously done a little research with Dr. Dungan in the math department for my math capstone. But it was cool to get a different research experience at a larger school.”


Freeman is currently applying to ten prestigious universities around the country with the intent to begin the program in fall 2024. He seeks to base his decision on which faculty he resonates with the most.


“After I complete my PhD, I could see myself doing many different things,” Freeman says. “I’m keeping my options open. I could see myself in academia, doing industry research, or maybe even doing software engineering.”


Time will tell exactly what the future holds for this bright graduate, but it will surely include forging his own path to success.