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A Second Bachelor’s Means a Chance to Develop New Technology

05/17/17

Aqua Bob TenzinA second generation Tibetan, Tenzin Khunkhyen ’18 of Amherst, Mass., was raised in the small, Northern India village of Kangra. His family lived there as refugees after his parents fled Tibet in 1959, when China invaded the country. He attended a refugee boarding school until he was 8, before immigrating to Massachusetts.

At MCLA, Khunkhyen is earning his second bachelor’s degree in computer science, with a double concentration in software development and information technology. His first bachelor’s degree – from UMASS-Amherst – is in biology. At UMASS, he discovered during his junior year that computer science was a much better fit for him. So, after completing his biology degree, he headed to North Adams to study at the College.

Today, he and another computer science student, Austin Thompson ’19 of North Adams, Mass., are working with the United States government to develop a device they call “Aqua Bob.” They expect this idea will provide some much-needed technology to support the fishing industry.

Aqua Bob is an Internet-connected device intended to help solve the problem of ghost fishing, which is what happens as a result of people losing or abandoning fishing gear. Nets, long lines and fish traps designed to catch fish are capable of “ghost” fishing when unattended. When this happens, no one profits, and the lost equipment affects already-depleted commercial fish stocks.

Khunkhyen and Thompson’s idea came about after they participated in a fishing industry-focused “Fishhackathon” in April 2016. “We had never participated in a hackathon, let alone attended a hackathon,” Khunkhyen said, “So, we were clearly at a disadvantage, but that didn’t bother us.”

They noticed that the majority of the participants opted to come up with solutions for more general problems, such as over-fishing or how to stop by-catch. “Therefore, we saw this as an opportunity to try to solve a problem that people weren’t choosing, and that was ghost fishing,” Khunkhyen said. Realizing that GPS wouldn’t work in water, they focused on how to bring the equipment to the surface, and developed a tracking unit.

Although Khunkhyen now works as an intern for the U.S. Department of the Interior in Hadley, Mass., last summer, he simultaneously served two internships: one at Panasonic North America in Newark, N.J., and the other at Yondster Inc., a start-up company in Manhattan, in New York City, N.Y.  He worked for Panasonic during the regular work week and at Yondster on the weekends.

At MCLA’s first Feigenbaum Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge last month, Aqua Bob came in second place.

Besides connections he made at the internships he served, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge was yet another opportunity to make further progress on Aqua Bob through additional networking opportunities, Khunkhyen said. As part of the Challenge, he and Thompson had opportunities to work with mentors, who provided feedback regarding the creation of a business structure for their larger goal of starting a company of their own.

“Win or lose, we knew we would be further down the line of progression when the contest was over. And it was well worth it,” Khunkhyen said.

“I am truly happy that I chose MCLA,” he added. “I am not only able to get the education that I wanted, but also am able to network with professors who really care about each student’s growth through education.”