Brendan Burgess in Clark University's Alumni and Student Engagement Center

Brendan Burgess ’18 blends the science of politics and computers

December 12, 2016

You could call Brendan Burgess ’18 a quintessential Clarkie. His double major in political science, with a concentration in international relations, and computer science sets him apart, but some first-year advice pushed him to take it a step further.

“I heard if you want to be involved in political science, you should have something that distinguishes you,” Burgess says. “A lot of people choose economics, but I was interested in computer science and really fell in love with the problem-solving that comes along with it.”

Burgess’s unique path and success at Clark University is exemplified through winning the Phi Beta Kappa Sophomore Research Prize from Clark’s Lambda Chapter this September. According to the organization’s website, the PBK Prize is awarded to students who demonstrate “a rigorous pursuit of knowledge through inquiry” along with academic excellence through a range of interests.

“I’m honored the University has chosen me to represent it with this prize, and it inspires me to keep working for my last two years here at Clark,” says Burgess.

Four Clark faculty members recommended Burgess for the prize: Li Han, associate professor of mathematics and computer science; John Magee, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science; and associate professors of political science Michael Butler and Srinivasan Sitaraman. In her recommendation, Han described Burgess as “an outstanding student with excellent academic performance and a professional work attitude.”

Extracurricular activities are one reason why Burgess won the PBK Prize. Sitaraman and Han are the faculty advisers for the two clubs of which Burgess is co-president and vice president respectively: Model United Nations and the Clark Competitive Computing Club. Burgess was also a member of Clark’s swimming and diving team during his first-year, and thrived on the competition it presented before having to separate to spend more time focusing on academic pursuits.

“Model UN is one of the most interesting clubs here at Clark,” he says. “It’s very much a way of taking the experiences we learn in the classroom and seeing the real-life impacts of them. It’s also fantastic for learning how to network and for improving public speaking.”

Professor Han introduced Burgess to the Competitive Computing Club, telling him one day, “You’re a member, come to practices,” and so he did. “It’s an interesting club that helps the university raise rankings in [the computer science department],” Burgess says. “It’s great for career development because it shows problem-solving skills and a competitive edge.”

Last month, Burgess and two other club members, Jiri Roznovjak ’18 and Christian Rentsman ’18, won a preliminary Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, and were invited to compete in the ICPC Northeast North America Regional Final at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The programming contest is the most prestigious for universities worldwide, and the regional final only accepts 12 teams from the Northeast to compete.

Membership in Model UN and the Competitive Computing Club coincide perfectly with Burgess’ uncommon combination of majors. Burgess insists that the more he progresses in both fields, the more overlaps he sees.

“In the spring, I wrote one of my end-of-semester papers on the increasing role of cybersecurity in international relations,” he says. “There’s also a lot of work being done these days with artificial intelligence being applied to helping predict political trends.

“If I decide to go onto a graduate program, it would probably be something I would focus on due to my background in both fields.”

This past summer, Burgess relied upon his computer science skills to complete a LEEP project at Axispoint, a contract-based software development agency in New York whose president and CEO, Dan DiSano, is a 1990 Clark graduate. The internship gave him insight into a possible future career.

“Computer science is very theoretical just because of its nature and how much material has to be covered, so a lot of practical real-world experience is missing from people coming right out of college,” he says. “I really wanted to gain that, and also see if this is something I can see myself doing 20 years down the line.”

Through the combination of experiences and knowledge he’s gained at Clark, Burgess hopes to eventually obtain his dream job, perhaps a government position that allows him to serve the public.

“That’s kind of what Clark is about,” Burgess says. “Taking the experiences you’ve been given and turning them around to help other people.”