Brett Gutstein: Using CS to Improve Lives

Brett Gutstein, CS alumnusBrett Gutstein might recently be known for winning a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Cambridge.  He might also be known for winning the highly competitive Abraham-Broad Exchange Scholarship at Rice. He is less well known for all the times he tried to achieve a goal but did not succeed.

“Developing the energy and perseverance to attempt difficult things has been really important for me. Even if it results in failure, the act of applying yourself to something challenging helps you to think critically about your motivations and goals and to develop a plan for the future,” Gutstein, a fifth-year M.S. student, said.

Gutstein’s plan for the future combines his passion for computing with his desire to improve the lives of others. Growing up, he was inspired to pursue humanitarian work by his mother, a cancer surgeon in the medical center who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help her patients, as well as meaningful community involvement and service projects during his time at St. John’s School in Houston. He has continued to pursue community service and involvement at Rice, where he also conducts research in computer systems and security with Professor Alan Cox.

“My goal for the future is to apply knowledge from computer systems and security to work on humanitarian and societal issues, like increasing access to government services and improving public utilities. I believe my time at Rice has prepared me to work towards accomplishing that goal by encouraging me to think independently and giving me confidence and technical expertise that will be invaluable,” he said.

Reflecting on his five years at Rice, Gutstein recognizes many people influenced him to succeed as a student.

CS alumnus Brett Gutstein“Literature professors Deborah Harter and Dennis Huston helped me determine what I wanted to accomplish during my time here and provided invaluable support in helping me achieve those goals,” he said.

Harter said Gutstein’s goals match his character.

“Even at Rice, where our students surprise us every day, there are a few whose talents combine with a creativity and a force of character that remind us especially of the privilege it is to know and to work with them. Brett Gutstein is one of these,” Harter said. “His power of intellect and his belief in himself are as humble as they are grand. His determination is a match for the enormity of his goals.”

Dennis Huston, Professor Emeritus of English, said he enjoyed sharing ideas with Gutstein.

“I was lucky enough to teach Brett Gutstein in my First-Year Writing-Intensive Seminar (FWIS) course five years ago,” Huston said.

“What I noticed very quickly about him was not only how brilliant he was but also how excited he became when he talked about ideas. During the years that followed, I have kept in touch with him just to continue our conversations and to hear about his experiences at Rice and Cambridge. Brett never ceases to project excitement and joy about what he is learning and about sharing his ideas with others. No one I know is more fun to talk to,” he said.

Fellow Rice CS students Philip Taffet ’17, M.S. ’18, and Jake Nyquist ’18, have known Gutstein for over eight years. Their friendship has inspired Gutstein beyond the classroom.

“We have worked on a lot of projects together, including a company that we started in 2016,” Gutstein said. “They have been a source of great conversations, inspiration, and advice over the years.”

“My research advisor, Professor Alan Cox, has also been absolutely instrumental in my academic development. He encouraged me to get involved in research in the first place, and his incredible kindness, support, patience, and expertise have helped me develop greatly as a thinker and investigator,” he said.

Gutstein will complete his M.S. in computer science this May, and he will start his Ph.D. studies at Cambridge in the fall of 2018. After finishing his master’s thesis, Gutstein looks forward to connecting with other people who have similar interests and getting ready to move across the Atlantic.

Cintia Listenbee, CS Publicist