Meet computer science alum Rizwan Merchant

Written byAmanda Burleigh & Quinn Foster

"I was afforded so many amazing opportunities at UL Lafayette to further my knowledge in ways that not many students get to. There is no other school in the state of Louisiana that has ever launched satellites into orbit."

Rizwan Merchant
Rizwan Merchant
Graduation Year
Class of 2016/2019
Computer Science
Lafayette, La.

Where I'm From

I am from Lafayette, LA.

Where I Am

I am currently working as a systems safety engineer at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

Where I'm Going

I'll continue using the skills in aerospace and security I learned at UL Lafayette to grow my career.

Rizwan Merchant graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science in 2016. He continued his studies at the University and earned a Master’s in Computer Science in 2019.

The hands-on group research projects at UL Lafayette helped Rizwan open his mind to new styles of learning while working with a diverse range of students from different backgrounds. As a Lafayette native, he took advantage of local homegrown opportunities. 

“I loved the research. I was afforded so many amazing opportunities at UL Lafayette to further my knowledge in ways that not many students get to.”

Preparing Early for the Future 

Rizwan’s passion for engineering began early in 2008 at UL Lafayette. He was a member of the Cajun Advanced Picosatellite Experiment (CAPE) in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“The CAPE program is a student research program dedicated to training students in the design, development, programming, and launch of small satellites into orbit,” Rizwan explained. “I began as a new recruit and moved up to a Lead Software Developer and Assistant Project Manager of CAPE-2, the second University Satellite launched into orbit in November 2013.”

“There is no other school in the state of Louisiana that has ever launched satellites into orbit. In fact, there aren’t very many schools in the country doing things like this.”

Rizwan also helped create an IOS and Android app during the Fall 2015 semester at UL Lafayette for Techneaux Technology Services.  The app was a class project for CMPS 453: Introduction to Software Methodology, which assisted the Techneaux Help Desk in better managing incoming service tickets for clients.

After the launch of CAPE-2, he began to work on CAPE-3 and joined Dr. Paul Darby’s Mobile Grid Computing Lab as an Undergraduate Research Assistant. Rizwan worked on the project until he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in May 2016.

"My work in the Mobile Grid Computing Lab focused on swarm robotics and distributed computing theory. My fascination with research sparked by CAPE and Dr. Darby’s lab prompted me to apply for Graduate School to work on a Master’s in Computer Science."

Rizwan believes networking and connecting with organizations played an important role in his success academically and professionally. “I was involved in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM),  Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) club, Muslim Students Association, UL Anime Club (also known as Mu Epsilon Kappa), and of course, the CAPE Program,” he stated. “These organizations provided me a fun way to meet people who share the same interests as I do, but also taught me to be a leader, and deal with the business side of things.”

Each research project collaboration pushed Rizwan past his comfort zone and helped him adapt and learn real-world professional skills to succeed in graduate school.

Experiencing the Perks of UL Lafayette Graduate School  

Upon being accepted into the Computer Science graduate program, Dr. Darby referred Rizwan to a new project on campus in Dr. Raju Gottumukkala’s Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) Lab, where he was awarded a graduate research assistantship to research electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging station security. The research performed was for a grant by the Idaho National Lab (INL) and the United States Department of Energy. Through this assistantship, he was able to apply for a summer internship as a software reverse engineer intern at INL, furthering his skills in cyber-physical systems security.

“The best experiences I had at UL Lafayette came from the research groups on campus. While we have some great classes, nothing can compare to working on real-world projects. In my opinion, being a part of a research project or some other project on campus will make you more likely to succeed in the classroom.”

His master’s thesis titled, Improving Vehicle to Infrastructure Security Through Trusted Authentication: Application to Electric Vehicles entailed defending electric vehicle security. “I designed a new technique to uniquely identify electric vehicles and securely authenticate them with a charging station,” he shared. 

Life After Graduate School

Rizwan graduated with his master’s in computer science and accepted a position with the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as a systems safety engineer. He is also a contractor for NASA’s Johnson Space Center working security and assurance where he analyzes software written for various NASA missions and provides feedback on where software is potentially dangerous to the mission.

“My day is spent reviewing software standards, performing software reviews of various modules for upcoming missions, and working with the software development teams to support their work,” he shared.

Rizwan is an advocate for UL Lafayette students stepping out of their comfort zone to turn their dreams into reality. 

“I’d like to give the following advice to prospective students, and current students. Look into joining research projects, or [working] on projects outside of the classroom. I realize Computer Science at UL Lafayette is tough and requires a lot of time and dedication but having research or project experience will help make your classes easier in the long run, and will give you something to use to market yourself for internships and eventually jobs.”

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