KOKOMO, Ind. — When he was a nursing major, Alex Martakis joined the choir at Indiana University Kokomo, and auditioned for musicals, as a stress reliever.
He found not only relaxation, but also, finally, the right career path and major.
He made friends with another actor, who told him about his computer science classes, which Martakis found intriguing, so he enrolled in the entry level programming class.
“I fell in love with it from the beginning,” said Martakis, who graduates in May. “I discovered what computer science is, and what you can do with it. If someone had told me earlier it was essentially virtual LEGOS, I would have been set. I like the flexibility that comes with it. Whatever you’re passionate about outside of computer science, you can apply it to that area.”
Now, he hopes to inspire other students, by becoming a college professor. Martakis is taking the first steps towards that career, by being admitted to master’s degree programs in computer science at both Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and University of Colorado Boulder — both among his top choices.
“I’m still in shock about the whole thing,” he said, adding that he has not chosen which one to attend yet.
It was a long road getting to computer science, that started as a nursing major at another IU regional campus. His family all works in health care, and encouraged him to consider that field, because of its career stability.
He briefly considered changing to pre-dental, but stayed with nursing, and transferred to IU Kokomo for its biochemistry program, still sticking close to health care.
“Something deep inside me knew health care wasn’t what I was going to do, but it took a second for that to surface, and for me to realize that wasn’t what I wanted to do at all,” he said. “After doing clinicals, I knew I wasn’t cut out for that, so I started dabbling in a few other things.”
Computer science was where he found his niche, in a field that challenges him and gives him a creative outlet.
“It’s complex problem solving,” he said. “There’s a freedom that comes with it, because there are a lot of different ways to solve that problem. Every day is really different, because there is always a new challenge. Once you figure out the problem, and get it, there is a lot of satisfaction that comes with that.”
He’s enjoyed researching with Abdullah Canbaz, assistant professor of computer science, using data science to target misinformation online. He’s incorporating previous work with metaphors and linguistics, finding and targeting metaphors associated with misinformation and propaganda. They plan to publish their research in near future, Martakis said.
Martakis also appreciates the opportunities he had to participate in theatre and choir, and also to take voice lessons while earning his degree.
“The arts were the best place to go to de-stress throughout when I was a nursing major, and then when I chose computer science,” he said. “It allowed me to get different perspectives on different majors. I wouldn’t have found my passion for computer science if it wasn’t for my friends in theatre.”
Experiences like researching with Canbaz and Kevin Clark, associate professor of psychology, and mentoring from Patrick Motl, professor of physics, led him to consider a career teaching college students.
“Dr. Motl is one of the professors I aspire to be like one day,” Martakis said. “He’s very inquisitive, and is a big advocate for continuing to learn, and to work across disciplines.”
Even though his family had encouraged him into a health care career at first, they support his career plan, and are pleased by his success.
“My parents have been my biggest support my whole life,” he said. “They were cautious about computer science at first, but then they saw how awesome it was for me. They are proud of all my hard work paying off over the last few years.”