Goodnight Spotlight: Neill Robson

Dive deep into the imaginative mind of Raleigh native, Neill Robson ’19.

Goodnight Scholars Program: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Neill Robson ’19: My life began right here in Raleigh, North Carolina, and given the choice I don’t think I would have chosen anywhere else. Raleigh is by no means a sleepy city–the four tumultuous seasons alone keep us on our toes–but it isn’t a region where growth and change take precedence over life. We cherish our past, pursue a better future, and still find the time to enjoy the present as well. I’m sure that I will have many homes in years to come, but nothing will ever match my childhood here in Raleigh.

My family and teachers were always fairly confident that I would grow up to be some sort of engineer. There were all the tell-tale signs: stellar math grades, social isolation, meddling with machines I shouldn’t touch, perfectionism. My mind was always hungry to learn and create, but we never had much in the way of building blocks or toys to fulfill that desire tangibly. What we did have was my grandfather’s old computer. I fell instantly in love with opening random applications, clicking every button I could, and discovering day after day more about this hidden “language” contained within a multi-faceted box that seemed to have endless depth.

So, in too many words with not enough cohesive details, that’s how I’ve become who I am today. I am a hacker, engineer, Christian, and storyteller. I love learning how to communicate with technology and through technology: designing websites that share information in new ways, teaching machines to teach themselves and share their discoveries, and even crafting digital experiences as a form of art and self-expression. When I’m not hammering away at a QWERTY keyboard, my fingers might also be found at a piano, grasping the handles of a bicycle, or burning themselves on the stove. When I’m not muttering software design patterns under my breath, the air in my lungs might be used for singing in a musical, practicing Chinese, or reciting passages from the Bible. I’m majoring in computer science with a concentration in video game development and a minor in theatre at NC State University.

If you had to summarize your personality in one sentence, what would it say?

Mild, dutiful, and faithful to process.

How would you describe your life as an NC State student?

Essentially, during my time at NC State I am trying to get a taste of many different life experiences under my belt, so that I am well-equipped to make initial career decisions once graduation comes. For the past year or so, my focus has been on professional development as a member of the corporate work world, as I’ve been working my way through a cooperative work-study program
with Kadro Solutions, Inc. Over the coming semesters and years, I hope to also become more familiar with the startup/entrepreneurial opportunities in the area, as well as get a bit of experience in undergraduate research to gain an understanding of potentials in academia.

Coming back to the present moment, I think my lifestyle is much like a young male teen at his first school dance, leaning on a wall a bit too far away in a clumsy attempt to look natural. That state isn’t at all a bad thing–we all have to start learning somewhere! I do my best to cook all of my meals and keep my living space clean, and I also try to stay engaged with my community in my
major. Service clubs, such as the STARS Computing Corps, have been the most effective way I have found to stay connected to campus life, even when working at a full-time job. During study semesters and breaks I love experiencing as much of the campus as possible, whether that mean taking my laptop out to a random building to work or riding my bike through every nook and cranny of campus.

Is there a particular accomplishment you’ve made at NC State that fills you with pride?

As a volunteer in the SPARCS branch of the STARS Computing Corps (SPARCS: Students in ProgrAmming, Robotics, and Computer Science), I frequently get to expose middle school students to creative experiences with technology that they never realized were possible previously. SPARCS is one of the organizations that introduced me to computer science when I was in middle school, and I cherish the opportunity to take the experience full circle and become an instructor in the program.

The Goodnight Scholars Program has been the primary catalyst empowering me to become a more thoughtful, contributing member of the college campus community and the larger city and state.

What is one experience you need to have at NC State before you graduate?

I need to eat at Cookout. No one should make Cookout a dietary staple, but friends and family have been urging me to accept the fact that I am, in fact, a college student. Often I wrongly adopt a “holier than thou” attitude toward certain college experiences that, on the contrary, are only truly possible and enjoyable at this virile young age when the body can recover and be stronger because of it. It’s important for me to realize that by denying myself activities such as Cookout trips, I’m also missing out on social experiences that will return so many more positive memories than the momentary guilt of “debasing” myself with creature comforts.

Tell us about your time in the Goodnight Scholars Program.

During 2016 I experienced two larger trips that also played defining roles in my relationship with the Goodnight Program: a spring service break trip across North Carolina, and a summer study abroad trip to China. Both experiences rocked the foundations of my understanding of home. Assisting rural middle schools set up physics programs across my home state, I was made aware of
the unimaginable diversity and cultural nuance that exists right in our own backyards–and how much we all can benefit from sharing time and conversations together with our own neighbors. The trip to China increased my awareness of the boundaries surrounding the place I call home, and where those boundaries had to be crossed–or not–to survive across the world. For every canyon-like
divide we encountered due to geographical or political differences, our time in China also revealed circumstances where we could have sworn we were right back in Raleigh: the geniality of passerby on a greenway, or the ubiquitous cultural obsession with a morning beverage.

Throughout all of this time, the Goodnight Scholars Program has been the primary catalyst empowering me to become a more thoughtful, contributing member of the college campus community and the larger city and state. It is with great joy that I’m looking ahead to three more years in this journey with the program, and hopefully further participation beyond graduation as a part of the alumni community!

What does being a Goodnight Scholar mean to you?

It means that I am not alone on the journey: hundreds of other students across many disciplines, along with alumni and staff, have received the same gift and are working towards that common goal of giving it out again. It means that we are called not simply to prosper ourselves, but to foster physical, economic, and social growth in our homes and communities which have invested so much into us.

Where do you picture yourself after graduation?

I love designing interfaces and improving communication with technology. My current work with a small e-Commerce web development company has been fulfilling in this regard, and I could easily see myself continuing to make a positive impact on local businesses through a role over there: crafting online storefronts and order-tracking systems to smooth the business process for other visionaries. That being said, there is so much I have yet to explore. The effect that advanced artificial intelligence could have on both person-to-person and person-to-computer communication is profound, and I would be quite interested in pursuing research in that field if I were to continue in academia. As previously mentioned, the Goodnight Scholars Program has also whetted my interest in travel and international work: perhaps I could secure a position at a company with a branch or client in China, for which I could be a liaison–who knows! But I do know that, while I’m sure the future is rich with opportunity across the world, I will certainly prioritize pathways that keep me connected with North Carolina.

Photography credit: Jason Perry/Goodnight Scholars Program