A phot of a man sitting at a desk in front of a computer monitor and laptop. He's typing on a keyboard attached to the computer monitor while looking at the laptop.
Sam Lyons, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in May, will pursue his master’s while working part-time as a software engineer. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Class of 2024: From 40 schools and $1.6M in scholarship offers, Sam Lyons picked a winner

Impressive size and diversity attracted him to VCU, where the computer science major will continue on an accelerated pathway to his master’s.

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Sam Lyons wanted a range of options when choosing among colleges, so he applied to a fair number – in his case, 48.

His acceptance by 40 set a record at Franklin High School, as did the more than $1.6 million in scholarship offers he received, leading to a press release from the local school system.

“I applied to a lot of colleges because I had the mindset that I didn’t want to just limit myself,” Lyons said. “I didn’t know exactly which college I wanted.”

Before his story made headlines, Lyons had put Virginia Commonwealth University on his short list. He saw rich possibilities at the school.

“I grew up in a small town with, like, 8,000 people,” he said of the Franklin area, near the North Carolina line in the Hampton Roads region. “So I didn’t want to be in a place where I knew everybody. [At VCU] I can know hundreds of people, yet there’s still people I don’t know. I wanted that.”

Lyons also embraced the diversity of opportunity – and people – at VCU.

“I saw that it had a lot of internship potential. And I also liked that a lot of different people from different backgrounds come to VCU,” he said. “I wanted to meet a wide range of people” – one of whom, Jannah, a double-major in psychology and forensic science, is now his wife.

Lyons graduates in May from the VCU Honors College and the College of Engineering with a degree in computer science. Like many youths, his interest started with computer games and, by middle school, expanded to how computers worked through software.

“How did the apps work?” he recalled wondering. “How did the video games know when I made a movement on the key on the keyboard? How did they know to respond to that? That’s when I actually started to learn that a computer had its own language. And so when I realized that, I was like, OK, so I can make the characters move by coding. I can build a game. I can build programs and applications and different things.”

In high school, Lyons taught himself his first programming language, JavaScript, by watching YouTube videos– “I just had a passion for computers and technology,” he said – and at VCU, he knew he was on the right path when taking an introduction to computer science course taught by Caroline Budwell, Ph.D.

“That course really started the ball rolling and really introduced me to what computer science entails, the basics of computer science,” Lyons said. “I knew one language, but I didn’t know that it can translate to all the different languages. I didn’t really know the logic behind coding, and that [class] taught me a lot. … She really had a profound impact in laying the foundation of my knowledge in computer science.”

Thanks to VCU’s dual enrollment partnership, in which students receive credit for college-level courses taken in high school, Lyons is graduating after only three years. He is on the College of Engineering’s accelerated pathway to earn his master’s degree in two years while working part-time as a software engineer at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Having left video games behind in favor of new directions, Lyons said his pursuits remain framed by the wonder of his youth – and the lessons he learned at VCU.

“Just basically helping improve the world through technology,” he said.