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Engineering graduate student powers through illness


Stefano Chang
|
May 10, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Stefano Chang had a good job in his field and was one class away from a master’s degree in software engineering from Arizona State University.

Then his vision went wonky.

He saw double because of a tumor in his head. Work, school, and everything else came to a screeching halt as he went to Mayo Clinic for treatment.

While he was there he wondered if there was a way he could take his final class online. He asked Kevin Gary, the graduate program committee chair for software engineering, about it.

“I didn’t want to delay more than I already did,” said Chang, the first in his family to earn a college degree. “It was the only thing I could do in terms of moving on.”

While enduring eight-hour treatments, he hunched over his laptop, wrapping up his degree.

“It felt good,” he said.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I always knew I wanted to get into computers, and that’s what I did. I had zero programming experience coming in. I moved here when I was 15, and I didn’t know anything about this country. … My school didn’t offer anything.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: It takes a lot more effort to finish grad school, knowing that you already have a degree and might not necessarily need it. I already had a job; I was already working before I graduated. This doesn’t really give me a pay bump or anything like that. It’s a lot more than taking exams or reading books; it shows a lot of determination, that you can finish something that you started.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My brother, my dad and I moved here (from Paraguay). I don’t think my dad finished high school. Nobody had an education, so to say, in my family. It was just me figuring it out. My high school counselor said, "Just apply." I applied — all local colleges. I got accepted to all three major ones. I was reading the brochure for ASU in computer science. It had a bullet point list of things they specialized in. None of the other colleges had it, so I thought, "OK — I’ll go to ASU.”

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don’t quit. You’re going to look back and you’re going to say, "I was wise about that," once you get through it. It’s just like my treatment. I look back on it and say, "It was a piece of cake. Nothing." But at the time …

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The Brickyard building. That’s the computer science building.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I started my LLC while I was going through treatment. I didn’t want to waste (time usually spent in school) once I graduated. I thought, "I’ll start my own business and make it work." I took on some contract jobs. It’s a software consulting business.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I think getting autonomous cars to the point where they’re fully autonomous. I don’t think $40 million would be enough. If it’s fully autonomous it’s a lot safer.

Above photo: Master's degree in software engineering graduate Stefano Chang poses for a portrait outside the bookstore on April 20. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASUNow

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