Inside USD

Nick Nobles: Imagining the Possibilities

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

One’s imagination is fertile ground for anything. There are no limits, often free of clutter and always impressionable. Nicholas Nobles’ passion as a third-grader was math.

“I was always good at math,” said Nobles who, fast-forwarding to present day is an impending USD graduate with degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science. “I remember being in elementary school and my brother, who is five years older, was having trouble with Algebra and substitution and elimination. I remember my mom, who was helping him, say to me ‘why don’t you come over here and learn his homework, too.’ So I did. I learned it in third grade.”

At age 13, Nobles spent idle time at the convenience store where his parents worked, not far from where they lived in San Diego. To pass the time, one thing he’d do was to see what was tossed in the trash dumpster. On one particular day, he and a friend discovered two discarded computers. “We saw those computers and we each took one, put them on our skateboards and pushed them up the hill.”

Nobles’ family’s old desktop computer, one he often used to play a baseball video game, had stopped working. He tried to start up the computer he’d found, but no avail. He then got an idea to solve the problem. “I decided to open up both computers and I basically ‘Frankensteined’ them with parts from both to get one working computer out of it.”

When he graduated from Patrick Henry High School, Nobles had done so through A.P. classes in subjects such as Biology, English, Government and Spanish, but not Calculus.

“(San Diego) Mesa College offered Math 150 and 151 and they brought a professor over to the high school to teach it, so I got college credit,” Nobles said.

He then accepted a generous financial aid package to attend the University of San Diego. True to form, a program that suited his advanced-for-his-age intellect piqued Nobles’ curiosity. He was selected for USD’s Pre-Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) program, one that allows a limited number of students the chance to work with a USD professor on a research project in the summer prior to their freshman year.

“That’s how I got into computer science, through Dr. (Eric) Jiang,” Nobles said. “I’d thought initially thought about majoring in (electrical) engineering, but there were no research projects for me to work on (through PURE). When I heard about the ones in computer science projects, Dr. Jiang’s interested me.”

Nobles wrote a document query system using Matlab. In the first few weeks, Nobles said he did tutorials to teach himself about programming. He soon got the hang of it, did some college-level research and “was able to make a decent working system out of it,” he said.

It was a good introduction to college. Equally important was his need to master a socially compatible element, one that was as supportive and nurturing as he had in an academic setting. He found it through Student Support Services (SSS). This federally funded program for first-generation college students, students from qualifying low-income families and students with disabilities have a committed staff to work with and to help students adjust to and succeed in college.

Nobles’ adjustment went smoothly as he participated in SSS’ Summer Bridge program (pictured, left, with 2009 Summer Bridge alumni), one that has students move into residential halls early, meet people, take group field trips, participate in fun activities and experience sample courses with USD professors to prepare for the academic rigor.

“It was a big benefit for me,” said Nobles. “It set me off on the right foot. I met people and made friends. I was able to focus on my classes, while knowing, too, that I had a base of friends I could go to, too.”

The support system he’s carried at USD also has been reciprocated. At last week’s SSS Recognition Ceremony, Nobles was named SSS’ student tutor of the year for the third consecutive year. He also received the SSS Director’s Award (pictured below), one he said made him realize that his time as a USD undergrad is really winding down.

“I’ve not taken too much time to sit back and really think about it,” Nobles said. “It’s cool (to win), but it’s a little sad, too, knowing that I’ll be leaving USD soon.”

He won’t soon forget the friendships and camaraderie he’s enjoyed through SSS, the Mathematics and Computer Science Department’s professors, staff and students and more. He’s been a member of the USD Math Club, the Association for Computing Machinery, which is essentially a USD Computer Science Club, and the Filipino Ugnayan Student Organization (FUSO).

Nobles has presented research project at three USD Undergraduate Research Conferences, including this year’s when he debuted a badminton game app for Android. He participated in USD’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), again with Dr. Jiang, on a data mining and network security project. Nobles attended research conferences in Philadelphia and, last summer, presented at one hosted by University of California, San Diego, through USD’s McNair Scholars program. The latter is another federally funded program whose goal is to prepare undergraduates for doctoral study through research and scholarly activities.

Being a USD McNair Scholar has introduced Nobles to the next chapter of his life. He will attend the University of California, Riverside’s Computer Science PhD program. Nobles said he’s intrigued by UCR’s computer graphics discipline.

One can only imagine the possibilities awaiting Nobles.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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