On May 20, Aguiar will graduate from the University of Rhode Island and receive the President’s Award for Student Excellence as the top student in both the computer science and computer engineering departments.
“Computer science is mostly about designing and implementing algorithms through software, whereas computer engineering is more integrating software and hardware and making the two work seamlessly,” Aguiar explained. “Computer scientists don’t care how things work, they just use it. Computer engineers need to understand how everything about a computer works.”
Although he started his URI studies without knowing what aspect of computers he liked best, through his coursework he found that he enjoyed software engineering, web application development and graphics. He was particularly fond of a course in compiler designs in which he learned to develop computer applications “to convert one representation of data into another representation of data.”
“I came to URI partly because of proximity and partly because I heard that it had a great engineering program,” he said. “But originally I just wanted to study computer science. I picked up the engineering later when I felt like I wanted to learn more math and science.”
With a grade point average of 3.97, Aguiar amassed an impressive list of academic honors during his time at URI, including numerous scholarships and nominations for induction into national honor societies. He also was named the outstanding junior in the computer engineering program.
A recreational guitar player and competitive soccer player who starred at Tiverton High School and still plays regularly, the URI student seems most proud of his part-time job as a mission innovation engineer at Raytheon, where he works as part of a team developing web applications for its Integrated Defense Systems division. He was recently hired by the company for a full-time position starting in July to continue his current project, but he hopes to eventually work on the Naval warship DDG-1000, programming a data processing system that will make the ship more automated and require less manpower to operate.
Aguiar’s younger brother Sean is also a URI student studying computer engineering, and his older brother Patrick graduated from URI in 2006 and now works in Boston. The three siblings are the first generation of the Aguiar family to attend a four-year college. Derek Aguiar plans to continue his education even further.
“I definitely want to go back to school for a master’s degree, or maybe even a Ph.D.,” he said. “And eventually I’d like to teach at the college level.”