Dilan Morales-Caro
Columbia U. Awards Dilan Morales Caro ’23 Full Scholarship for Statistics MA

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics
Minor: Computer Science
Cohort: Office for Student Research & Creativity (OSRC)
Hometown: Colombia; Queens, New York
Career aspiration: Mathematician/Computer Scientist

“I want to change society through mathematics, computer science, and cryptography. My biggest dream is to help with technology that’s relevant to the medical sector. When I was two years old, I had cancer. Now, one of my goals is to use computer science and math to help people battling cancer.”

How did your experience with cancer impact your life and career goals?
The cancer I had as a child, called a retinoblastoma, was in my left eye and discovered early, but they still had to remove my eye. Now, I wear a prosthetic eye and have regular cancer-screening checkups. Cancer is something I’ve always had to worry about, and I rely on medical professionals and technological advances to keep me safe.

What was life like before John Jay?
I moved to the United States from Colombia when I was 16 years old. When I came to this country, I went to an international high school knowing only a few words in English. We had the option of taking bilingual or English-only classes, and I decided to take the English-only classes to challenge myself and become proficient in English faster. It was really difficult. I found myself translating every third word in the lecture notes. It took me an entire evening to finish a homework assignment or write a paper in English, but the school helped me, and my English started to improve rapidly.

Why John Jay?
As a first-generation college student, I didn’t know a lot about the application process or how to choose a college, but I had heard that John Jay was one of the best colleges in the country for criminal justice and cybercrime. I was really interested in the legalities of computer networking and computer security.

What experiences shaped your journey at John Jay?
The faculty at John Jay changed my life. One of the reasons why I’m pursuing graduate school is because of the belief that Professor Samuel Graff had in me. When I was struggling in a differential equations course, he’d always tell me to keep working at it. He'd break down different equations, ask me what my goals were, suggest different opportunities, and help me apply to graduate schools. He saw my potential and made me believe that I could attend graduate school.

Were there any internships, fellowships, or research opportunities that helped prepare you for your career?
The New York Jobs CEO Council connected me to a really interesting cybersecurity and networking internship with Cisco. Professor Graff helped me get into the Summer Training for Aspiring Researchers (STAR) Program, where I took classes at Columbia University that were relevant to my mathematical and computer science ambitions. With the help of Bettina Muenster and the team at OSRC, I conducted many research projects. This past year, I did a year-long research project with Assistant Professor Matluba Khodjaeva on post-quantum cryptography, and before that, I did research with Professor José Luis Morín focusing on mass incarceration of Latinx people. That research involved a lot of data and statistical analysis, but it was especially rewarding because it allowed me to learn more about the criminal legal system’s impact on the Latinx community.

Why did you decide to attend Columbia University?
I really enjoyed my classes at the STAR Program and could envision myself advancing my education at Columbia. The scholarship I received will fully cover the tuition for my master’s degree in statistics. It also gives me priority to enroll in Ph.D.-level graduate courses and teaching assistant opportunities. I’m hoping that the master’s degree program helps improve my logical, mathematical, and statistical skills, so I can later transition to a doctoral mathematical and computer science program. Getting this scholarship and acceptance into Columbia showed me that no matter where you come from, if you put the effort in, you can reach places that you didn’t know were possible.