by Sampson Nanton
Deputy Managing Editor
Two T&T scholars have graduated at the top of Howard University’s College of Engineering and Architecture, having attained the highest scores possible in their computer science studies.
The achievements have now secured Deante Taylor, 23, and Tyrone Smith, 22, jobs as software engineers at tech giants Amazon and Google respectively, and they’re also pursuing a “pipeline” project that will help other T&T nationals to earn internships in the US.
The two young men shared graduation honours with US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at Saturday’s ceremony in Washington, DC.
“Essentially at Howard, the highest grade point average (GPA) you can have is a 4.0 which is essentially a perfect GPA and Tyrone and I both achieved this grade,” Taylor said.
Theirs were not only the highest grades among computer science majors, but the highest grades of the entire college.
Taylor, who attended Presentation College, San Fernando, was the winner of an Open Scholarship in Mathematics in 2019 but could not accept it because of financial constraints. He sought an alternative.
“What actually got me my scholarship to Howard was my SAT scores, so I ended up getting a full ride to Howard,” he said.
Smith, a graduate of St Mary’s College, Port-of-Spain, was also doing the SAT exams which earned him “a very large scholarship” from Howard.
The two strangers would form a connection through an online forum that started their journey to the top of academia and created a strong brotherhood bond.
The awards given to Tyrone Smith for attaining the highest GPAs in Computer Science and in the College of Engineering and Architecture.
Apart from having to adapt to the new environment, Taylor faced particular challenges at the start of his studies.
“My mom wasn’t working at the time and a couple years before going to Howard my dad got into an accident that left him paralysed and he was the breadwinner. So a lot of things were going wrong,” he said.
His first class, too, would test his strength and the mettle of their newly formed comradery.
“We’re doing Computer Science, I am a Computer Science major, tell me why on the first day of class I have no working laptop? I’m in the class and I’m like, ‘Tyrone, can I borrow your laptop please?’ And I think, for almost half the first semester, I was just in class and I’d be like, ‘Tyrone, you’re done? Let me borrow it and just keep my fingers moving,” Taylor said.
Smith pulled through for his Trini “partner in crime”, as they called each other, recalling his reaction to Taylor’s request.
“It really opened my eyes . . . you know sometimes we can be in our own world studying academically and not be aware of other challenges that your fellow classmates or friends might be facing. I was lucky enough to have a laptop that I could use for the programme but at the time he was still waiting on funding from the school as part of his scholarship.
“Just seeing him struggle but at the same time, him being so persistent and wanting to persevere that he’d asked me, a guy who I just met online, didn’t know each other, to borrow my laptop, I admired that,” Smith said.
The two went on to leave their marks beyond academics, becoming the founders of the Howard University rugby team and the Howard University E-Sports Foundation.
“It was the first of its kind on campus so navigating stuff like getting sponsors, setting up tournaments, even getting equipment was time-consuming. In the end, it did work out. We were able to network and get sponsorship from Verizon so they actually built our gaming lab at Howard,” Taylor said.
Verizon also gave them US$100,000 to give out to women playing games at that time.
Through Taylor’s leadership, Howard Univerity also developed an E-Sports competition in the US Middle Eastern Athletic Conference and has won every competition since.
As the founder of the Howard University Rugby team, Smith said they’re now working to get T&T students on athletic scholarships and are creating linkages between Howard rugby coaches and T&T rugby players.
Sharing the graduation stage with President Biden and PM Rowley was a special moment for them.
“The only way to describe that feeling was a sense of pride seeing not only the President of the United States but seeing our own prime minister being acknowledged for his contributions and then in that same breath receive an award alongside him,” Smith said.
He’s encouraging young people to pursue their dreams by putting their all towards it.
“This is not just reserved for us. I think it is something anyone can achieve if they put their mind to it. This just goes to show that someone coming from any part of Trinidad and Tobago can work and be recognised on a stage as large as this,” Smith said.
Taylor’s vision is the same.
“The biggest thing life has taught me is to be disciplined. I think with discipline you can reach very, very far in life. I have had a lot of friends that could work something in one day, 10 seconds, 10 days, but what’s the common factor to all these successful people? They were disciplined enough to put in the work,” Taylor said.
As they now seek to develop their careers, they have purposed to also develop the “pipeline” project which has already brought five students and their families to the US for internships, which they hope will create more opportunities for other T&T nationals.
Tyrone Smith during his studies at Howard University.