Corey Keyser describes himself as "an outdoorsman, scientist techie from Tennessee." He is a third-year Eminence Fellow majoring in philosophy and neuroscience with the ultimate goal of combating food and health issues as well as helping new entrepreneurs succeed by working as a venture capitalist. If he is not off hiking or climbing mountains, he is probably sitting in front of a computer, but not to binge-watch Netflix or contrive the perfect combination of Instagram hashtags. Instead, most of his time is currently spent coding or working on projects to reduce food insecurity.
Keyser has always had broad interests, which made philosophy an ideal area of study. He explains, "Philosophy basically specializes in looking at everything and just breaking it down, showing why it's wrong, showing how it could get better, and there is a literally a "Philosophy of" everything: philosophy of science, philosophy of politics, moral philosophy…" He became interested in neuroscience in high school, realizing that studying the brain could give him insight into his unanswered questions about philosophy and vice versa. He chose to attend Ohio State because it would give him an opportunity to take an interdisciplinary approach to both his majors.
Keyser credits Honors & Scholars with defining his college experience so far. He notes that both financial resources and academic resources— such as mentors and advisors— have given him the freedom to pursue any projects he is passionate about. The Eminence program also introduced him to students with similarly high ambition. Keyser says, "H&S gave me a community as soon as I got here and it made the transition into college life a hundred times easier."
In addition to being an Eminence Fellow, he is involved in OSU Mountaineers, where he met most of his friends. He helps with a startup that builds logistics software and is hoping to start a campus publication about technology and entrepreneurship. Most of his time, however, goes into a student organization called Best Food Forward, for which he is the current president.
Best Food Forward is based on a co-op model and provides students with healthy, affordable groceries. The idea stemmed from Keyser's Eminence cohort; during his freshman year, food insecurity was highlighted at the Buckeye Summit, in a study by the Office of Student Life, and in the summer reading book assigned to first-years (Good Food Revolution by Will Allen and Charles Wilson). Though food insecurity is a problem all around the globe, approximately 15-20% of students at here at OSU do not know where their next meal will come from. Since each Eminence cohort is challenged to focus on a societal issue and develop solutions, Keyser and his peers decided to tackle the problem they were hearing so much about. Like most projects, it was a process of trial-and-error and the pieces did not fully come together until this past January, but it was well worth the wait. Best Food Forward purchases local produce in bulk and is able to sell it at significantly lower prices than grocery stores and campus convenience stores, sometimes selling bundles of items at almost one-third of the regular cost. Members send in their money and vote on the produce that will be included in the next bulk package. Students do not have to be stressed about transportation since the groceries can be picked up right on campus, making the food more accessible in addition to being cheaper. Keyser hopes to cut the rate of food insecurity on campus in half by the time he graduates.
Keyser's coding knowledge helped him develop an app for food co-ops to handle voting, payment, and other administrative responsibilities. Through a summer-long program in San Francisco at the Horizons School of Technology, Keyser gained about three years' worth of coding knowledge in the span of three months. He now has the skills necessary to be a full-stack software engineer, meaning he has experience in each layer of development rather than specializing in front end or back end. Keyser got to learn from very experienced software engineers and build several apps, and he highly recommends the program. However, he notes that Silicon Valley has its problems, some of which he witnessed firsthand. At one point, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his apartment; luckily, no one was hurt, but Keyser says. "It gave me a horrible first-look into the downside of the Silicon Valley tech culture— namely, massive inequality, gentrification, and community tension." Thus, the summer was an important learning experience in more ways than expected.
Even while dedicating so much time to software development and combating social problems, Keyser has found the time to be involved with undergraduate research. He works under Dr. Brandon Turner in the neuroscience department, specifically doing computational neuroscience work. They turn data about human behavior and brain phenomena into computational models, sometimes involving complicated mathematics. Keyser explains, "I take on my own projects and try compare and create models for human decision. Right now, I am working on a project to use structural brain data to optimize existing models." His research experience has led him to think about science differently, realizing that the goal of just about any scientific field is to create models to explain data. He has also realized how little we truly know yet about the brain, which is part of what makes neuroscience so exciting for him.
Though he jokes about being afraid to sound too pretentious, Keyser believes that philosophy is what ties everything in his life together. He says that it fills in many of the explanatory gaps of neuroscience, and that the two fields complement each other. Similarly, computational neuroscience and coding are closely related, whether he is working on research in Dr. Turner's lab or creating a new app for co-ops. He sees coding, neuroscience, and philosophy as occupying the same "knowledge basket" in his life because he needs to be competent with all three in order to accomplish his goals. "On the other hand," he says, "Best Food Forward seems kind of weird and distant and it throws in this extra factor that you don't normally have to worry about in science: people." Combatting food insecurity, in his opinion, is a separate "knowledge basket" he is working on filling. Of course, some skills, such as general problem-solving, have transferred over between the two.
Keyser credits his family and girlfriend with keeping him grounded while he tackles so many projects. He is also a strong believer in the occasional trip to escape from the stresses of every day life; his most recent journey was to West Virginia, where he went climbing and made sure not to worry about school. "On top of that," he says, "I am just very excited about everything I do, so it is really easy to work on these things non-stop."
By Christina Szuch, Honors & Scholars Media Team Member