Andrew McAlinden
Andrew McAlinden
Stamps Forty Acres Scholarship, supported by Joanie & Doug Aron and Rebekah & Gary Reaves
Forty Acres Scholars Class of 2026
Austin, Texas
High School
Vandergrift High School

I am 6 years old and in kindergarten. The class is on a break, and we are playing games on the class computers. I play a game where I have to rotate a series of mirrors to reflect a light beam into a target, and I am captivated. When I get home, I find the same game and beat it. My first time working through a complex puzzle has enthralled me, and I will continue to be fascinated with puzzles as I get older.

I am 8, and I have begun to compete in a two person game with my siblings. Someone thinks of a number between zero and 100, and the other person has to guess the number while being told if their guess was too high or too low. I strategize that it is best to determine the highest and lowest the number can be and guess halfway in that range, and I determine that I will always be able to guess the number under eight guesses using this method. Years later, I will learn that this is called a binary search, and the time complexity can be found using a logarithm.

In middle school, I begin to play with Rubik's cubes. At first, I am focused on speed, but as I acquire more and more cubes, I find a new form of entertainment in the puzzles. I love to try to figure out how to solve new puzzles from scratch with no outside resources. The process of experimenting with a puzzle and eventually solving it through trial and error is captivating, and I purchase dozens of “twisty puzzles” (very few are cube-shaped) as the years go on, each of them a new enigma to decipher, a challenge to conquer.

As I enter high school, I discover a new type of puzzle: computer science. I am immediately hooked, and I begin to participate in computer science related activities and learn more about it in my free time. Although I have been infatuated with many other puzzles in the past, the puzzles encountered in computer science are puzzles I want to devote my life to solving. I am certain that I want to be a software engineer, and I specifically want to work in fields involving new technology, advancing the human race into unknown territory.

I feel nothing but excitement when I think about the future. I wish I could skip forward 10 years to see how different the world will be, what field I end up working in, and how I fit into the human story. Maybe I will see myself contributing to the integration of robots into our everyday lives or the creation of stable quantum computers. Perhaps I will be working towards the infrastructure that will allow humans to create permanent homes on other planets or designing fully autonomous vehicles. Wherever I go, as long as puzzles are involved, I’m sure that I will be happy.

Computer Science

Honors Program
Turing Scholars

Other Academic Interests

What drew you to the Forty Acres Scholars Program?
On the night I applied to the Forty Acres Scholars Program, I messaged a friend:

"bruh imagine how sick it would be if I got 40 acres I would go to UT in an instant no question I would pay to go that's a 10x better outcome than MIT”

While the prospect of attending a top-tier institution for free obviously played a role in my excitement, there were many other aspects of FASP that amazed me. I dreamed of becoming close with a group of curious and ambitious individuals and becoming integrated into a vibrant community throughout my time at UT. I was enticed by the chance to have a life-changing global experience anywhere on planet Earth. I was in awe that I might be invited to exclusive dinners, meeting with and learning from valuable mentors.

The excitement I displayed on that night has yet to fully subside, and with the incredible opportunity I have been granted, I doubt it ever will.