Loar's Passion for Expanding Possibilities in Computing Leads to Support of iCAN

9/1/2021 9:20:12 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

For about seven years, following his graduation from Illinois CS, alumnus Matt Loar (BS CS ’07, JD ’17) worked continuously at the problems a software engineer encounters. While enjoying the work, he also learned that in the computing industry, it’s easy to get drawn into a pretty narrow vacuum.

Illinois CS alumnus Matt Loar
Illinois CS alumnus Matt Loar.

The experience didn’t reflect his deeper goals and aspirations in the field, formed during his years spent as an undergraduate student here.

So Loar sought to engage in new possibilities and came back to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to attend law school. With his law degree in hand, he re-entered the computing industry in data privacy, which he considers the intersection of law and computing. The worth he finds in his career as a data protection and privacy counsel speaks to the deeper connection that he’s found with computing over time.

Inspired by his new career, he decided to give back. Loar recently provided a generous $5,000 gift to Illinois CS that will directly fund scholarships with the Illinois Computing Accelerator for Non-Specialists (iCAN) program.

iCAN’s mission is to provide non-computing college graduates with an accelerated program of CS study, preparing them for computing careers or to pursue graduate studies.

A notion that synchs up perfectly with Loar’s motivations.

“I’ve come to believe that we shouldn't practice CS in isolation. Instead, the power of CS is about applying lessons learned to better other areas of the world around us,” Loar said. “What appealed to me about the iCAN program, is that it seemed to be addressing that very idea, just from a different direction.”

The transitional experience iCAN students expose themselves to is a powerful one, which is a feeling Loar recalled from his own time as an undergraduate student here.

By immersing himself in the classroom and with extracurricular activities on campus, he found an undergraduate experience that prepared him for everything that came next. But even as he has progressed from a professional in software engineering, to law school and now a career in data privacy, Loar still can recall the moment that shaped him most at Illinois CS.

“For me, the highlight of my time at Illinois was working with peers in the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM),” Loar said. “I learned so much from late-night hackathons with fellow students in the ACM office. Everybody had so much passion for and incredible depth of knowledge about computing. That was an amazing experience that equated to long-lasting opportunities.”

He hopes that new iCAN students can benefit from his gift, but, more so, he believes they will find a new experience that is as exciting as his was.

That’s why Loar gave in the fashion he did. He could’ve provided to a general use fund, but the iCAN mission spoke to him.

“My hope is that by supporting the iCAN program, Illinois CS will open doors and opportunities in computing that might not be possible otherwise,” Loar said. “The students included have spent significant time in their life mastering a different field, but they feel compelled to join computing.”

Another aspect to iCAN that Loar found inspiring is the way it fits within a core goal at Illinois CS, Broadening Participation in Computing.

As the industry has grown tremendously over a relatively brief period, having more voices in on decision making is an important issue. iCAN and other BPC efforts at Illinois CS aim to achieve this shift at a foundational level.

This goal helped finalize Loar’s mindset toward giving.

“It’s extremely important, especially as technology touches more and more facets of our everyday life, that it is built by many different people,” he said. “Having more diverse people in the room to make decisions is how we can get technology that is equitable and not technology that, even inadvertently, discriminates or puts people at a disadvantage.”

To that end, Loar feels proud to contribute to current efforts at Illinois CS, where big-picture ideas remain rooted in an individual’s ability to make the most of the amazing opportunities computing provides.