Tech Athletes Series: running hot races and cool code

“Neither of us came here just to run,” Ricky Harris (BS in Computer Science ’20) says while teammate Dan Citardi (BS in Computer Science ’18) nods in agreement. “I chose to come to Pace University because of the great academic program and the great internship opportunities.”

That particular choice paid off: Ricky interned at the White House in summer ’17 and has his eye on a number of very cool opportunities for his third summer at Pace. Spending a few months working in Washington DC wasn’t an excuse to slack on his fitness though. Did Ricky run, Captain America style, around the iconic National Mall park? “Every day,” he admits. You’ve got to stay in shape if you want to serve the country well!

While Ricky and Dan may not have come to Pace to run, it still figures greatly into their schedules and has been one of the most enduring memories of their Pace experience. Both cross country racers, these speedy computer scientists spend their weekdays taking capture the flag cybersecurity challenges or coding mobile apps and their weekends competing against other schools to traverse five miles of trails in the quickest time possible.

Many view running as a solitary sport, and it’s difficult to think of how a cross country ‘team’ can compete as a group when only one person can cross the finish line first. How do Ricky and Dan deal with the idea of working so hard as a group yet just one person getting the glory?

“Pace is its own team,” Ricky says.

“If the two of us are running together, we’ll push each other to go faster,” Dan adds. Rather than racing individually with the goal of placing in the top three, Pace runners strategize on how best to use each individual’s strengths and, when they need it, motivate one another to inch a little bit closer to the kind of peak performance that results in great victories. “Plus,” Dan continues, “I hate to say it, but there’s always bragging rights. If someone were to come out and beat me, of course I’m going to be more motivated to beat them the next time – especially if I see them all the time!”

All of that running takes time, though. Between practice, cross training, and the racing itself, there has to be a balance struck between ‘pace’ and ‘university’. How do the students juggle athletics and academics?

“I balance athletics and my studies by setting aside four to five hours a day to either study for a test or work on any assignments that were given to me and due within that week,” says Ricky, indicating that organization is key.

Dan found that athletics had a positive effect on how he approaches schoolwork. “Having some sort of athletic activity helped me balance more effectively than I otherwise would have,” he says. “If I know I have practice or a meet at a certain time, I know that I have to get my work done beforehand because, naturally, I’m always a bit tired after running. Being an athlete also got me out of the habit of procrastinating – which, after four years, I couldn’t be more thankful for!”

While Ricky is about to enter his third year with Pace, Dan has just about wrapped up his degree and is graduating in Spring 2018. What did he like studying the most?

“Going into college I knew I wanted to do something with computers but, to be honest I didn’t really know what,” says Dan. “But after taking all the classes and doing a lot of side projects, I really took a liking to mobile app development. A huge reason behind that was because of Dr. Jean Coppola; she took me under her wing in freshman year.”

Lining up together to set the Pace

Ricky also worked a lot with Jean, and under her guidance the two runners built a mobile app together (with fellow Seidenberg student, Mackenzie Dolishny) called DiscoVeR, a virtual reality app designed to help individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia cope during a period caused by the disease known as the ‘sundowning’. During this time, which is typically in the late afternoon to early evening, the individual can experience confusion and agitation, which may lead to panic and can be difficult for caregivers to deal with.

Through the app, Ricky and Dan aim to help.

“Dr. Coppola gave us the idea of doing something with virtual reality,” Ricky says. Working together, the two came up with an idea of creating an interactive world where users have to complete simple tasks that help take their minds off of the sundowning experience. “It’s a visual effect, a very simple interactive world . . . they can go into a world and – say there’s a gorilla that needs a banana – they use virtual reality to look around for it.”

DiscoVeR netted the team prizes in both the 2017 #WestchesterSMART Mobile App Development Bowl and the Pace Pitch Contest. It would appear that athletics is not the only area in which Dan and Ricky excel! That said, there are plenty of other achievements in the running realm for both students.

Seidenberg Dean Jonathan Hill, Dan, Ricky, and former Westchester County Exec Rob Astorino at the #WestchesterSMART Mobile App Development Bowl
Dan, Mackenzie Dolishny, and Ricky after placing in the Pace Pitch Contest

Dan’s most memorable moment as an athlete was being named team captain in his sophomore year. “I was never the type of person to really be vocal and take charge. Since the team was relatively young and inexperienced, I stepped up and took on that leadership role. From my freshman year to senior year, it was incredible seeing how much the team was able to grow, not only in terms of our running abilities but also our sense of family. We would always hang out, have team dinners, play video games, or do whatever we were feeling.  That sense of team bonding and unity made every second that much more enjoyable.”

Dan also ended up becoming the president of the student athlete association and became a voice for athletes on campus. He got to go to conferences and meet others, which he enjoyed immensely.

Ricky also made great memories at Pace: “My most memorable moment as a Pace athlete was Regionals this past season. The entire 10 kilometer race was ran through a flooded muddy golf course. Even though the whole team was covered in mud by the end of the race, we still pushed each other to perform our best. It was also the last meet for all of the seniors, so we left all we had out on the course to give them a last great memory as a Pace athlete.”

With graduation coming up, things will be quite different for Dan. He’s already got a job lined up doing app development for QSI, a software engineering company. As for running, the competitive field changes too. “After college it’s not going to be the same running and competing as I’m not going to have the same team around me,” Dan says. “But I’ll always be really active!”

Of course, he may also be heading back to Pace to do his master’s in software engineering… we won’t complain if he does!

Ricky Harris and Dan Citardi are two Seidenberg students who embody the Pace Path and have successfully explored the possibilities of coming to Pace in both their athletic and academic worlds. Do they have any advice for incoming students on how to make the most of their time at Pace?

“Take advantage of everything,” Dan says. “Internships, app development, chats with professionals, workshops, whatever it may be. Seidenberg has so much to offer, and if you put effort into it, the benefits will be impossible to ignore. At Pace in general, the biggest thing I would say is to get involved.  And it’s never too late to try something new. I got involved with Colleges Against Cancer my junior year, and ended up becoming part of the committee that helps plan Relay for Life. You never know the opportunities that will present themselves and you never know who you might meet.”

Ricky and Dan at the 2018 Relay for Life in support of cancer research

“Just be involved in as many opportunities as you can,” Ricky confirms. “Don’t push anything to the side, take advantage of every opportunity and develop yourself as a whole person. I would recommend to go to every event Pace and Seidenberg have because at every event you’ll meet someone new and make new friends also it’s how you make connections with people. Seidenberg is like a family and you won’t find a better group of friends or family on campus.”

Author: Katie Todd

Katie Todd is Assistant Director of Communications and Strategic Operations at Pace University's Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems.