Equipped to Lead and Succeed

Meet Kenny Dong '23

Graduate Student

The Japanese studies graduate talks about food, music, lyrics, generative AI, and software engineering.

What attracted you to USF?
As a double major in Japanese studies and computer science, the location of USF was good for me to gain exposure to large companies and opportunities. I was also interested in the Japanese community here, since Portland doesn’t really have one.

Why did you choose Japanese studies as a major? What did you like most about it?
I was interested in the language and culture. Although I took three years of Spanish in high school, I also decided to teach myself basic Japanese. After a brief trip to Japan in my sophomore year of high school, I wanted to learn more about the places I visited and decided to commit to the major. What I like most about the major is that the upper-division textbooks are each centered around each region or prefecture and significant cultural and historical aspects. I’ve mostly used my Japanese skills to learn more about food and music, so I can follow recipes and learn lyrics.

What year did you graduate?
I finished my time as an undergraduate in May 2023, but as a 4+1 computer science major I’m spending this year finishing up my MS.

What are you doing now?
Once I finish my master’s degree, I will continue practicing my Japanese and work as a software engineer for the time being. I hope to complete the Japanese Language Proficiency Test at the N1 level at some point. Other than that, I plan on just learning new Japanese recipes and songs, particularly the lead/rhythm guitar for songs in Bocchi the Rock [manga series]!

How did your USF education prepare you to do your work?
Although I’m a software engineer, I have done projects relating to both Japanese and computer science. I’m currently working on a directed research project to use generative AI to produce Japanese song lyrics. The knowledge I gained from taking Japanese linguistics has helped with some parts of the project, like understanding verb morphology better and using a Japanese tokenizer. On the CS side, software development prepared me greatly for writing better code, while the machine learning lab (MAGICS) and AI classes have been helpful for researching ways to improve the performance of my Japanese models.

What advice do you have for current USF students?
If you start things early and ask for help when you need it, you will succeed. Starting early gives you more time to figure out what you don’t know and gives a buffer for you to go to office hours. If you push things off, you’ll end up in a cycle of catching up and falling behind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help; there’s always someone else with the same problems. Also, if you have a lot of material to study for, go through it all at once to know what you’re strong at and then focus on the things you’re weaker at. If you repeat this you can get through everything much faster.