Blaine Billings is a problem solver. He likes the thrill of chasing down a solution and the sense of satisfaction he gets once he arrives at the right answer.
So when he found himself working alongside College of Charleston math professor Dinesh Sarvate the summer between his junior and senior years of high school, for Billings, it was a match made in computational heaven. Now a freshman in the College’s Honors College double-majoring in math and computer science, Billings was first assigned to work with the mathematics professor as part of the curriculum at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics.
The pair spent eight weeks during the summer of 2015 crunching data sets aimed at solving a combinatorics configuration. Combinatorics is a branch of math that studies sets of numbers, and is frequently used in computer science to enhance website encryption and solve coding dilemmas.
And while that may sound like nothing more than a headache-inducing nightmare to those who aren’t mathematically or technologically inclined, to Billings, it was the math equivalent of riding a roller coaster.
“There’s kind of like a rush once you get a problem and you’re able to solve it,” says the fresh-faced 17 year old of why he’s so enthusiastic about numbers and equations. “I love feeling that feeling when you get a problem you’ve been working on for a while solved. And with math, there’s normally that one clear answer you’re looking for.”
That passion has paid off. After spending his senior year of high school working with Sarvate to refine their research, the Honors College student recently learned the Journal of Combinatorial Mathematics and Combinatorial Computing has accepted the resulting paper for publication.
Billings says he’s as surprised as anyone that he’s found himself as a co-author of a math research paper, especially in his freshman year of college. He says he really didn’t know a whole lot about computer science or the field’s intersection with math until he landed at the Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics his junior year of high school. Once he did, he wanted to learn more not just about the art of coding – but also the mathematical structures behind the codes themselves.
“What’s so great about combining them both is, whether I’m doing research in computer science or math, the knowledge in either field will be able to help me,” Billings says, explaining how math and computer science relate to one another.
And now that he’s at the College, he’s looking to keep that numerical thrill ride going. He’s joined the College’s Cybersecurity X Lab, which explores security vulnerabilities of computer systems, and he’s a member of the CofC team for the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest. He is also a William Aiken Fellow and a member of the Honors College’s Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community.
Billings plans to pursue a Ph.D and one day teach, he says – maybe even at CofC. He’s off to a good start since he already has a shared faculty office in the School of Sciences and Mathematics at the College’s Harbor Walk campus.
“We believe he has the potential to be one of our strongest computer science students both in terms of programming and in research productivity,” says computer science professor and Honors Faculty Fellow Lancie Affonso.
For his part, Billings demures at the suggestion that his trajectory is unique.
“I try not to think much of it,” he says. “I’m confident everybody has the ability to do so well. It just takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get in a position like where I’m at.”
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