Speed School Junior Awarded Barry Goldwater Scholarship

May 15, 2022

By Holly Hinson

Once a three-year old playing on computers in his parents’ office, Christopher Trombley, now a Computer Science & Engineering student at Speed School, has been awarded the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship. The award was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater.

By providing scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, the Goldwater Foundation is helping ensure that the U.S. is producing the number of highly-qualified professionals the nation needs in these critical fields.

Trombley, a junior, said his ultimate goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence and conduct research on robotics and intelligent systems to enable the next generation of robots. The $7,500 Goldwater scholarship he received will be used to pursue that doctorate.

“I applied last year for the Goldwater but didn’t get it, and this year I just thought it would be the same because it’s very, very difficult to win,” said Trombley. “When I found out, I was so excited, as were my parents,” he said. “Getting a Ph.D. will really open up a lot of opportunities for me.”

The Louisville native always expressed a keen interest in computers. Originally enrolled at UofL’s College of Business, Trombley taught himself how to program computers, and then switched to Speed School of Engineering in fall of 2018.

Beyond the classroom, Trombley has been working in the data mining lab with Dr. Mehmed Kantardzic, and with Dr. Dan Popa at Louisville Automated Robotics Research Institute (LARRI).

“Kantardzic has been a great mentor and really helped me grow as a researcher,” he said. “LARRI has also been phenomenal. It’s a top notch facility, an impressive group of very ambitious people and other excellent mentors.”

In the early days of programming, Trombley first developed virtual reality games, and then experimented with building a primitive robot, which further spurred his interest in AI.  “It was a very cool experience, seeing the robot kind of come alive, in a way,” he said.

Trombley, who was involved in the Speed School club, Red Bird Robotics, said that experience was a valuable one. “That team gave me a great chance to get my hands dirty and learn the practical implementation of robotics.”

For his co-op placement, Trombley applied at NASA, an extremely competitive process that only accepts one or two students a year, and was selected. He did all three co-op rotations at NASA in Greenbelt, Maryland, each semester studying respectively, robotics, machine learning, and virtual reality. “I thought robotics was really interesting so when I came back, I stared working at LARRI and have been working on robots regularly ever since.”

This summer, Trombley was one of 25 students out of more than 300 selected for a flagship undergrad research program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) working at the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines. A collaboration between MIT and Harvard, the program gives students the opportunity to spend the summer on MIT’s campus, conducting research under the guidance of MIT faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, and advanced graduate students. “I’ll be working on basically intelligent algorithms, so I’ll be working at the intersection of computer science and neuroscience,” he said.

The abundance of robust research opportunities at Speed is something that sets the Speed School experience apart, according to Trombley. “There are great research opportunities at LARRI, the Conn Center of Renewable Energy, and of course co-op opportunities as well,” he said. “If you do the work, it’s all there for you. We have people that go on to Google, NASA and Microsoft.”

Trombley said he plans to do his PhD in robotics, and to continue research and teach post-doc. “I’m very interested in research, but at the same time I am interested in teaching to give back to the younger generation when I get to that point, to be able to be a mentor and guide them.”

Since he first set foot on the engineering campus. Trombley said he has felt a bond to the school. “One of the best things about Speed School is the tight-knit community,” he said. “The teachers are really invested in you, and they all seem to really care,” he said. “Every class you are held to high standards, so you know you will learn a lot. You will be challenged, and will grow into a professional engineer.”