Class of 2022: Kodua 'KD' Kwarteng flexes the versatility of computer science to find his path
When searching for majors to pursue, Kodua "KD" Kwarteng saw computer science as a perfect match because it was both rewarding and a creative outlet. Drawing inspiration from his Black Engineering Support Teams mentor Kayla Moore '20, Kwarteng said he was fascinated when she spoke of her experiences and aspirations with computer science.
Through several courses, including Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction, Kwarteng and his classmates were asked to consider whether technology contributes to isolationism and were tasked with creating a project that supported their position on the question. One of the first activities included a rapid-fire brainstorming session in which students pitched ideas involving wearable technology and virtual reality.
"The point of the exercise was to think outside of the box and pitch the first things that came to mind," said Kwarteng. "Brainstorming this way allowed me to separate the complexity aspect from possible solutions, as I was encouraged to pitch my most unique ideas. The exercise taught me that we tend to limit our creativity to what we know is already possible and what we have already experienced."
Kwarteng and his classmates developed Project Fellowship, asserting that technology brings people together rather than causing isolation and using the various applications of technology during the pandemic to support this claim. "We then chose a problem to focus on, which was socializing during the pandemic, and began working on our solution," said Kwarteng. This direction resulted in prototyping a virtual space for graduating students to connect.
When the department introduced the Human-Computer Interaction minor, Kwarteng jumped at the opportunity. The minor provided a gateway to all the possibilities he could explore within the computer science major while also maintaining flexibility.
“If I didn’t find enjoyment in making software in a certain field, I could try a new one,” said Kwarteng. “If I had an idea that I wanted to bring to life, I would have the tools and knowledge to begin developing it."
Finding his way
In high school in Falls Church, Virginia, Kwarteng knew he wanted to pursue engineering. Having Virginia Tech as an in-state option, he said he was naturally drawn to the program’s prestige. Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering has been consistently ranked as a leading undergraduate program in the country.
As with most students, stepping onto campus and receiving a warm welcome helped solidify Kwarteng’s decision. He felt even more at home after learning about the UJIMA Living-Learning Community, which he would later join. UJIMA places a special emphasis on understanding the unique experiences of Black and African American people in society, including their college journeys.
Kwarteng joined a variety of campus clubs to meet more people and express himself academically, culturally, and socially. He cites joining the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) as one of the best decisions he made.
Kwarteng admits that this was one of the best decisions based on imposter syndrome. "I initially had a hard time convincing myself that I belonged in this program, but NSBE allowed me to overcome that," he said. "I spoke to students that were in similar situations to me, who also shared similar backgrounds. This made it a lot easier to see myself in an engineering field post-graduation."
He also credits the society for supporting career development by hosting various resume-building workshops and company sessions that proved beneficial during recruiting seasons. "After participating in these events, I never experienced difficulty receiving interviews from top companies. I felt like I knew what companies were looking for and how to highlight my skills," said Kwarteng.
Inspired by his Ghanaian heritage, Kwarteng became active in Virginia Tech’s chapter of the African Student Association, a multicultural student group hosting campuswide events such as Taste of Africa, which made home feel a little less far away.
He and his parents were born in Kumasi, Ghana. The family moved to Falls Church when he was 1 years old. "Initially, we had no assets, no income, and at one point, no home," said Kwarteng. "My mother worked relentlessly and eventually became a nurse, making our situation better."
Witnessing his mother's efforts inspired Kwarteng to take his education very seriously. "Here I am today, on track to being the first member of my family to receive a bachelor's degree."
Rising to the challenge
Never one to shy away from a new experience, Kwarteng embraced the opportunities the College of Engineering offered with its Rising Sophomore Abroad Program through the Department of Engineering Education. In addition to the spring global Science, Technology, Education, and Math practice course, Kwarteng did a two-week international module in Spain and Morocco. “Participating in this program gave me insights into computer science opportunities outside of the United States,” he said.
These insights included opportunities to interact with engineers at various companies as well as students at IE University Madrid. One of the company visits included Airbus in Getafe, Spain, where one of the engineers spoke about his experiences working with a diverse team where everyone spoke different languages. This experience proved to be eye-opening for Kwarteng. "I had always assumed that if I did not know the native tongue in a certain country, then I’d never be able to work there, but Spain taught me otherwise."
The rigorous computer science program equally challenged and excited Kwarteng. “Technology evolves at a very fast pace so it has always been important to me to understand course content,” he said.
In his junior year, Kwarteng was awarded the George W. Gorsline Memorial Scholarship, created in 2000 by alumni and named in honor of the department’s first head. Affectionately known as “Dr. G” to his students, Gorsline was a champion of “underdog” students who persevered through unique challenges to successfully complete a degree in computer science.
Kwarteng said he was shocked when he received the award. It gave him a renewed confidence that he could be an exemplary student in the computer science program.
“During my first few years in the engineering program, I was overwhelmed by the gap that seemed to exist between top-performing students and me, so I made great efforts to close that gap through many late-night study sessions, coding boot camps, and personal projects,” said Kwarteng.
On being a Hokie
“To me, being a Hokie means holding yourself accountable, and recognizing your strengths and weaknesses as a student, peer, and leader,” Kwarteng said. “It means showing gratitude to those who contribute to your success and being willing to aid others in achieving their goals.”
He credits his academic success to the support of his donors, recognition of his efforts by the Department of Computer Science, and the guidance of his academic advisor, Jennifer Bradley.
Kwarteng will take this groundswell of support and encouragement as he graduates this May with both a major and minor that has afforded him the creative expression he desired. He credits much of the computer science coursework for allowing students to express themselves and apply the design cycle to their own ideas. He said he also is proud of the multidisciplinary education he received as a student in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech.
"Having taken rigorous courses in engineering, sciences, humanities, and more, I feel as though I can contribute to any conversation," said Kwarteng. "The program completely transformed the way I approach problems by forcing me to deeply consider constraints, costs, and ethics as they apply to any situation."
Representing Hokie Nation
The flexibility that drew Kwarteng to the computer science program remains a constant for him. After graduation, he will work as a full-time software engineer at New York-based asset manager BlackRock, where he interned last summer. “The company offers a rotational program where I will get to work on various projects for the first few months on the job,” he said.
Kwarteng said he is beyond excited to join his new work team and represent Virginia Tech in the workplace. "I hope to be in a position to recruit Virginia Tech engineers or mentor interns someday."