Making the most of college: Mervyn Winn ’26

Making the most of college: Mervyn Winn ’26

From computer science to the Korean language, this first-year Black Alumni Network scholarship student is exploring it all

Mervyn Winn '26

Mervyn Winn ’26

A few years ago at the height of the pandemic, Mervyn Winn ’26—one of the Black Alumni Network’s first two scholarship recipients—was a high school sophomore with some time on his hands. That’s when he started watching Korean prank videos, which are popular on YouTube and social media.

Winn thought these videos were really funny and well done. His appreciation for them prompted a curiosity about the Korean language and culture, one that became so strong that he decided to learn Korean, which he’s been doing completely on his own through self-study.

“The Korean language made sense to me from the beginning,” says Winn, who started piecing together sentences very quickly. “I’m drawn to systems and patterns, like the ones I see in the Korean language. Learning Korean isn’t like studying for me either—it’s just fun.

Language fascination

Winn’s continued learning Korean as a first-year University of Rochester student. He took one class in the fall and is taking another one right now. He also spends a lot of time at the Language Center within Frederick Douglass Commons, where he practices his Korean with a peer tutor. Some evenings, Winn participates in an online conversation exchange with English and Korean speakers from around the world. Together, they practice their conversational language skills while learning about each other and their cultures.

Winn is fascinated by all sorts of languages, too, including computer language. “There’s a huge intersection between computers and language, and I’m excited to be here at Rochester where I can explore both,” he adds, noting that he’s interested in taking a computational linguistics class. Before starting to learn Korean, Winn even taught himself computer programming, an interest that grew out of a youthful enthusiasm for video games. He’s even considering majoring in it.

Growing up

Winn grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and started gaming when he was about eight years old. “I grew up pretty poor and my neighborhood wasn’t the safest,” he says. “My sister, brother, and I didn’t play outside much. Because of that, my brother and I got really close playing video games together, which is what launched my interest in computer science.”

Everything about gaming fascinated Winn. “When I was 10 years old, I begged my mom to take me to the Barnes & Noble near where she worked,” he says. “I wanted to get this one particular 2D game design book so I could teach myself how to make my own computer games.” Fortunately for Winn, his mom got him that book. After reading it, he made his first mini 2D game, which featured flat graphics, which means that players can typically just move up and down as well as left and right. Winn loved it and wanted to learn more.

As a junior in high school, Winn was accepted into a summer coding program for underrepresented youth hosted by Goldman Sachs, the investment banking company. He and a small group of young, knowledge-hungry, self-motivated students spent five weeks building an expense management app together. “That was such a cool experience,” he says. “And, even though I hadn’t taken any formal classes in coding or computer science up until then,, my interest continued to grow.”

His Rochester experience

When Winn started thinking about college, he knew he wanted to go somewhere that had a strong computer science program. His high school counselor told him about the University of Rochester. Winn liked what he learned about Rochester. He was drawn to its strong computer science program, the variety of language classes offered, the open curriculum, and the number of international students on campus. He wanted to meet people from diverse backgrounds and, now that he’s here, he’s been doing just that. Some of his best friends are from Germany, China, Africa, and, not surprisingly, Korea.

Winn is excited for his future at Rochester. He hopes to pursue undergraduate research, get an internship, and study abroad. In the meantime, he’s taking it all in. When he isn’t in class, studying, online, or honing his Korean, he can be found at the Goergen Athletic Center working out, enjoying a sub from Rocky’s in the Pitt, or doing something fun with friends off-campus. He is also part of the Korean Student Association, a group with whom he enjoys Korean food nights, playing games, and singing karaoke.

With gratitude

Winn is grateful to the Black Alumni Network for its support. “This scholarship is an honor, and it helps make the cost of college less of a burden for me and my mom,” he says. “It’s the first time I’ve been given something like this, too, which is really humbling.” Winn is also grateful to his mother for working hard to make college possible for him. During school breaks, he takes the eight-hour Amtrak train ride home to visit and, every week, he FaceTime’s his mom. “She misses me a lot but is proud and really happy I’m here,” he adds. “So am I.”

The Black Alumni Network

Learn more and get involved in our Black Alumni Network—an inclusive leadership organization that seeks to empower, connect, and celebrate the University of Rochester Black Community. The network encourages communication and cooperation between alumni, students, friends, faculty, and staff who are committed to the advancement of people of the African diaspora. It also fosters a network for personal and professional connection and provides a sense of community and family for alumni of color. Contact Ghislaine Radegonde-Eison for more information.

Photo: Matt Wittmeyer

Learn about the Black Alumni Network’s other scholarship recipient, Nadia Niyogushima ’26.

— Kristine Kappel Thompson, February 2023