From Court to Code: Balancing the Life of a Student Athlete and Aspiring Computer Scientist

Carrie Sena
May 16, 2024
Pace University student Just O'Neill preparing to take a free throw at a basketball game for Pace's Men's Basketball team.

When Justin O’Neill (BS in Computer Science ’25) began his college journey, his path forward held many unknowns. Fast-forward to today and he is finishing his third year at Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems and preparing for a summer internship at a major international company! I was thrilled to have a chance to speak with Justin about his last few years at Pace and the ways in which he has confronted uncertainty and taken charge of his course.

Like many high school students, Justin began thinking about college in his junior year. He didn’t know where he wanted to go or what he wanted to study, but he did know that playing basketball was going to be part of the equation. In fact, it was through basketball that Pace University landed on his radar. “I’m from New Hampshire, so I hadn’t known about Pace until I came to visit,” shares Justin. “I was impressed with what I saw during my tour, so I decided to apply here.” Justin was admitted and began in the Fall of 2021.

Justin was undecided about his major when he started at Pace. He always excelled in mathematics, but it was unclear if pursuing it as a major was the right choice. In the spring of his first year, Justin took a computer science course, taught by a Seidenberg faculty member, and it was this experience that gave him clarity. “I recall being drawn to programming and coding in high school,” notes Justin. “I don’t think I realized that my interest could align with a major in Computer Science (CS).” In fact, as Justin describes, “I was discovering what it meant to major in CS seemingly in real-time,” as with every passing semester, he’s gained more of an understanding of the degree and where it might take him in the future.

While his first course with Seidenberg was in his second semester, Justin’s first experience with Seidenberg took place in his first. “As part of UNV 101, students were asked to conduct an informational interview with someone from Pace,” shares Justin. “I requested an interview with Dr. Jonathan Hill, the Dean of the Seidenberg school, who agreed to meet with me.” Reflecting on the experience, Justin shared being somewhat in awe that the meeting took place:

“That someone as busy as the Dean agreed to meet with me was surprising, but as I’ve gotten to know the Dean, I know that openness and the willingness to go above and beyond, is simply who he is.”

And it is not just the Dean whom Justin believes goes the extra mile. “Everyone in the Seidenberg community is so welcoming and helpful,” notes Justin. “On the occasion that I’ve had an issue with my schedule or something, I can always count on the Seidenberg team to help me resolve it.” According to Justin, other things that add to the ‘community vibe’ in Seidenberg include small class sizes, accessible faculty, and a cohort of peers with whom he takes most of his classes.

Earlier this spring, Justin began his search for a summer internship. Thanks to help from Pace’s Career Services, Justin was ready with his resume and LinkedIn profile, and he began sending out applications to every internship opportunity he could find. “I was very enthusiastic and motivated,” shares Justin, “however, I think I was a bit naïve to the process, as I sent out a lot of applications but was not hearing back.” At that point, Justin proactively began reaching out to individuals in his network to ask for tips and advice on how he tweak his approach to ensure a more positive result. One of the people Justin contacted was Dean Hill.

“We met a couple of times in person,” notes Justin. “I explained the type of experience I was looking for and my approach to-date.” One thing Justin expressed during these conversations was the desire for an internship close to home in New Hampshire. “From there, Dean Hill made a connection with one of his contacts at Staples who interviewed me for an intern role,” notes Justin. “I was thrilled when I heard back that I was accepted, and I immediately contacted Dean Hill to thank him.”

As the semester ends, Justin is finishing classes and preparing for his summer at Staples. “I am taking some preparatory courses that were recommended to me,” shares Justin, “And I will get a bit of a break before the internship starts in early June.” Justin is excited for the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a professional setting and to further his skills.

“I am really grateful for the opportunity and for the strong support system in Seidenberg that has helped me along the way!”

Stay tuned for more from Justin as we learn about his internship experience later this summer!

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