Darkoch Settles on ECE/Economics Double Major

By Claire Cusick, 2004

Justin DarkochJustin Darkoch has all his bases covered. As a double major – electrical engineering and economics – he studies technical processes and big-picture outcomes. He also volunteers his time teaching computer skills to children in local Durham schools and plays on Duke’s baseball team.

The Wayne, New Jersey native strives to have a full and fulfilling life, and that is part of the reason why he chose to pursue engineering at Duke. During a high school visit, Darkoch was struck by how well rounded and engaged the Duke students were. Those students he met had broad interests and activities – they weren’t just "jocks" or "bookworms," and that was just what Darkoch was looking for.

A rising senior, Darkoch started out working towards an electrical engineering (EE) major. He has always had a technical inclination, he said, and felt that EE provided the broadest range of possibilities --- including digital signal processing and digital communications.

"I like the broad spectrum of it," he said.

He particularly enjoyed building an AM/FM radio and learning the technical concepts behind what made the radio work in his introductory EE64 class.

"You’re learning the theory, and you’ve got it in your hands at the same time," he said.

After taking a few economics courses to satisfy graduation requirements, Darkoch recognized economics was a logical partner to his technical studies. And with an eye toward the future, he opted to double major, planning to leverage the combination into a good job.

"The math part of economics is easy once you’ve taken all the math for engineering," he said.

A forward thinker, Darkoch began laying the foundation for his working life through a summer internship in 2003 (between his sophomore and junior years). Darkoch worked at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C. Already a double major, he saw the opportunity to analyze the cost constraints of alternative energy technologies as an excellent fit.

"I ended up with an invaluable experience and made some great contacts that introduced me to the D.O.E.’s Pacific Northwest National Lab, where I am working this summer," he said.

And the benefits of our nation’s capital extended to his social life, too.

"D.C. is full of interns over the summer, which made for a fun summer and eased being away from home," he said.

This summer (2004), Darkoch has a three-month internship at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Lab in Washington state. He will be working in the lab’s national security policy area, learning more about how sensors and detectors are used in national security applications, such as border patrols.

"This summer should be a great experience to see first-hand some unique applications of electrical engineering. I think the opportunities I’ve had -- analyzing alternative energy technologies last summer, working on national security projects this summer -- reflect the amazing breadth and scope electrical engineering has in society," he said.

When he gets back to Duke, he plans to continue his volunteer work as a CLICK (Creating Literacy in Computer Knowledge) Teaching Fellow. During the school year Darkoch will volunteer at least six hours per week, time spent in addition to his own coursework.

CLICK is a new organization that aims to improve computer literacy among middle school students. It also works some with elementary school students. Started in 2002 by a former Duke student, CLICK has after-school programs in place at Rogers-Herr Middle School and Lyon’s Park Community Center. (For more information, see http://www.duke.edu/web/isis/click/index.html.) At Rogers-Herr, the CLICK students are sixth graders. But at the community center, they range from first-graders to fifth-graders.

All eighth-graders in North Carolina are required to take a computer competency exam, and CLICK’s lessons are designed to make that test less intimidating. That’s the near-term goal, but CLICK is also providing these students with skills they can use in many jobs or educational environments.

Darkoch heard about CLICK through a flyer. He thought it was interesting, the opportunity to build technology literacy among young students, and a way he could use his own knowledge to help others.

"Computers are such an enabling technology," he said. "Everyone needs to learn those skills."

So he became CLICK’s Assistant Coordinator. This year, he spent about three hours writing two lesson plans per week. When implemented, the lessons are 45 minutes long, so he spends another three hours teaching the after-school lessons. Sometimes, he said, his carefully constructed lessons end up going in a direction he didn’t imagine, but one that was educational nonetheless.

"It’s a creative thing that you always have to be on your toes with," he said.

One lesson he wrote focused on a spreadsheet program. Each student needed to plan how to manage a mock lemonade stand for a few days. Each day, they decided how many signs to post to advertise business, and balance the tradeoffs between raising the price of lemonade and placing more signs that would bring in more business.

"They figured out how to maximize profits pretty fast," he said.

When he’s not studying or volunteering, Darkoch is president of the Duke Club Baseball team. The team practices once or twice a week, and plays other college club teams. A lifelong baseball player who earned all-county honors in high school, Darkoch wanted to continue playing during college but put academics first. The club team made for a perfect compromise.

"The club baseball team gave me a fun atmosphere to play ball with guys with a similar interest without the extensive time commitment of varsity athletics," he said.

Justin graduated in May, 2004.