By Brandi Wylie ’24, intern
Nathan Patnam ’19 is honoring his father’s memory by awarding scholarships to Wofford College students showing an interest in computer science.
His father, Dr. Raju Patnam, who died in 2019, placed a strong emphasis on getting an education and stressed the importance of “learning something new every day.”
Patnam is using the Raju Patnam Scholarship to honor his father’s legacy while supporting Wofford students and encouraging them to seek education in the same ways that his father encouraged him. He’s also using the application process to teach and prepare students, even if they don’t receive the scholarship.
“The Career Center is not going to hire you for a job at a software company, someone at a software company is going to hire you,” Patnam says. “They can help you create a resumé or provide interview prep, but when it comes to some of these harder things in computer science, like technical interviews where someone will ask you a coding question, I want to help.”
Patnam, who lives in Simpsonville, South Carolina, is a full stack developer with Salesforce. He will join the team at Uber to assist with the company’s voucher and coupon process.
During his time at Salesforce, he established the Beyond the Lecture nonprofit, with the help of an upper manager, to mentor computer science majors. His goal is to provide opportunities for students to gain insight from professionals in the computer science field. After graduating from Wofford, Patnam began mentoring students and decided to help those at his alma mater. That led to the scholarship and nonprofit.
The initial prize, given in 2020, was a $1,500 scholarship awarded to Audrey Wiseman ’22, a computer science major from Aiken, South Carolina. The scholarship application was a Google form that resembled a job application as much as possible.
The process of picking the scholarship winner soon advanced to interviews and a review of resumés. Patnam hopes this approach allows all students applying for the scholarship to get something out of the process, whether that’s just a practice interview for a future job, resumé help or the grand prize, which was delivered via Venmo the first year.
Since the first scholarship was awarded, Patnam started the nonprofit to make the process more official and accessible to Wofford’s computer science majors and potential donors. Dr. David Sykes, McCalla Professor of Computer Science, and Dr. Aaron Garrett, assistant professor and chair of the computer science department, are on the Beyond the Lecture board.
Selecting Sykes and Garrett as board members was easy for Patnam. He enjoyed working with both professors while he was a student because of their knowledge and passion for their work.
“It is always special to see what our computer science graduates are doing in the field, and it’s exciting to have a young alumnus like Nathan so committed to helping current students while exposing them to opportunities and advice as they prepare for the workforce,” Garrett says.
Patnam spent most of 2020 and 2021 establishing the nonprofit and began receiving donations for scholarships.
He says many of the applicants for the scholarship’s second year have more computer science experience than he remembered having as an undergraduate.
Daniel Alexander ’25, a physics major from Vestavia, Alabama, placed first in this year’s competition and received $3,500. Benjamin Sale ’25, a computer science major from Fort Mill, South Carolina, was the runner-up and received $1,000. Initially, the scholarship was meant for just one winner each year, but Patnam was so impressed by Alexander and Sale that he made an exception and found additional scholarship dollars.
Alexander was impressed with Patnam and the scholarship process.
“He made the daunting idea of moving into the real world in a couple of years and figuring out what I want to do for the rest of my life seem much more manageable,” Alexander says. “Beyond the financial assistance that this scholarship will provide, I am grateful for the knowledge and guidance that he has given me.”