Computer Science Student Flies High at Boeing

William Blanchett is excited. You can see that in his eyes. They brighten considerably when he talks about his life as a rising senior double majoring in computer science and computing in the arts. Blanchett is on the cusp of launching himself professionally, and the planets appear to be aligning perfectly for that occasion.

A native of Marion, S.C., Blanchett has taken advantage of nearly every opportunity that has come his way at the College – and then some. As a rising high school senior, he actually spent six weeks at the College assisting with research and operations within the computer science department. Since then, he’s become a William Aiken Fellow in the Honors College and a computer science ambassador. And his most recent triumph will play out this summer. He’s secured a paid internship with Boeing, where he’ll join one of this aerospace giant’s tech-support teams.

“I’m excited to be working in high-level tech support,” says Blanchett. “It will be very different but satisfying, I’m sure.”

William Blanchett (Photo by Kip Bulwinkle ’04)

His eagerness to invest himself in new ventures has been a hallmark ever since Blanchett enrolled at the College. During his first year, he took an introductory computing in the arts course and found himself working with professor Bill Manaris at the nexus of computer coding and music composition.

“We learned how to write code to create notes and then expanded that to write a series of notes and longer segments,” explains Blanchett. “I knew a little coding from high school, and I’ve played piano a long time, so this interdisciplinary connection fascinated me.”

That course led to two consecutive years of research wherein Blanchett worked on a variety of projects with Manaris.

“In one project,” says Blanchett, “we experimented with sound spatialization via smartphones. We essentially developed code that can make sound move from one speaker to another on individual smartphones. We gave two different presentations of that project and both were very well received.”

That’s putting it modestly. “I asked William to join my research lab,” recalls Manaris, “because I could see his potential – very eager to contribute, enthusiastic, a quick learner, smart and dedicated. Together, we created two systems in sound spatialization, one of which earned a research award. It’s not a stretch to imagine William becoming a university professor one day. He certainly has what it takes.”

As intrigued as Blanchett is by the application of coding to music, he doesn’t think he’ll pursue that professionally. “I really like solving problems and building things,” he says. “I’m much better at those roles than I am at finding problems to solve, which is how I perceive our sound spatialization work.”

And it turns out that he’s also pretty adept at engaging young minds on the topic of computer science. As a computer science ambassador, Blanchett has traveled to local high schools and to a college fair in Augusta, Ga., to talk with prospective students: “I’ve really enjoyed those interactions. It’s given me the chance to emulate the people here who have inspired me.”

But it’s not just his professors and peers who have inspired him; sometimes it’s his surroundings.

“Our department has an amazing facility at Harbor Walk,” says Blanchett. “At the Innovation Center, you can meet with representatives from Boeing, Mercedes Benz Vans and other companies, and you can use 3-D printers, a VR headset, a bunch of game consoles and several pretty sophisticated gaming computers. The coolest part is that we have 24/7 access to that space. So, you can go down there at 3:00 in the morning, if you want.”

Now that’s something worth getting excited about.