At Lincoln Center, Trial and Error Leads to a Calling

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Alex McCauley first visited Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) in 2011 as part of a family vacation timed around his older sister’s enrollment at West Point. At the time, he thought he wanted to become a theater producer.

Six years later, however, McCauley has embraced a different calling. The Houston native is graduating with a major in mathematics and a minor in economics. This year, he realized he had a knack for computer coding—and the response he received at a recent interview at Google has convinced him to pursue it as a career.

He discovered an interest in coding after spending his junior year studying abroad at the London School of Economics. Even though he was able to line up several internship interviews for positions in management consulting, nothing came of them. He found himself with no plans for the summer.

So he turned to his thesis adviser, David Swinarski, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics, to see if he could assist in any research. With a summer research grant, McCauley created an analysis suite using raw data from motion capture technology that Columbia Presbyterian Hospital doctors are using to study breathing.

“Breathing looks very different in a person with emphysema compared with a normal person,” he said. His resulting research shows how those differences can be expressed mathematically.

“When I started this project, I realized I could take it as far as I wanted to,” he said. “It ended up being a much more valuable experience, from the standpoint of developing skills and having some experience, than a management consultancy would have been.”

As his interests have evolved from theater to finance to coding, McCauley  also feels like he’s learned how to relax more. A 4.0 student in his first semester, he joked that he felt like he learned more during some of those subsequent “3.75” semesters. His four years at Fordham also afforded him the chance to form long term relationships outside his immediate family. This year, he shared an apartment in Harlem with two fellow honors students who he first met his freshman year, and spent a great deal of his free time at a poetry collective that one of them started.

The college’s small size and liberal arts focus made it the perfect fit, he said.

“If you put yourself out there, you have direct access to everybody—from the professors all the way up to [FCLC Dean] Father Grimes,” he said.

“People really express an interest in the individual student’s well-being.”

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