Student Spotlight: U.S. Marine Corps Put Cheonwoo Seo on Path to Business Information Management at UCI

November 1, 2021

Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Cheonwoo Seo moved to Orange County in September 2010. After graduating from high school in 2014, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a data systems administrator for four years before earning his associate degree in business administration and economics from Cypress Community College. The newly transferred junior chose to continue his studies at UCI because of the breadth of degrees offered in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). After exploring his options, he settled on business information management (BIM) in the Department of Informatics. “I like to invent new techniques, so even if I do the same jobs and tasks every day, I can make it better and more fun,” he says. “My goal at UCI is to gain knowledge that strengthens my data systems background from the military so I can start my professional career.”

Can you talk about your service?
I joined the United States Marine Corps after high school in 2014. I served in the Headquarters and Services Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines as a data systems administrator. I had two deployments. The first was for six months at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, Japan, where fighting was occurring in jungle terrain. The second was for eight months in Vaernes, Norway, where fighting occurred in extremely cold weather. I decided to discharge from the service in 2018 to attend college.

Cheonwoo Seo at MCB Camp Wilson in 29 Palms, California, where his unit went for integrated training prior to his first overseas deployment in 2015.

What brought you to UCI?
I decided to attend UCI because only the Bren School of ICS offers so many computer-related degrees other than just computer science. And business information management was the one I decided to study.

What made you decide on business information management?
Ironically, I chose BIM because of the Marine Corps. I began my enlistment as an “open contract,” meaning the Marine Corps chose my Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). I kept bothering my recruiter to let me join as early as possible. I didn’t want to wait months or a year, so I agreed to be placed wherever they needed people most. So it was the Marine Corps that first started my career in data systems.

I enjoyed the service as a data systems administrator and got a meritorious promotion to corporal. I began to manage marines assigned to me under my charge tasks. I got promoted to sergeant in my third year. I loved what I was doing and spent personal time learning how to use new equipment. I loved both management and data systems, so I decided to discharge from the military to begin gaining more knowledge at UCI.

Cheonwoo Seo at the parking lot of the Communications Company, 2nd Marine Division for a simulation (left) and in Bridgeport, California, for cold weather training prior to overseas deployment in 2017 (right). In the parking lot, the blue console cable connected to the laptop was used to program the Cisco switches and router to ensure that data could be stored on the server and that the server stayed connected to the network. In Bridgeport, Seo is sitting on a server and compacted telephone switchboard. The black trash bag near his foot is protecting pre-made cables (such as ethernet and console cables) from the snow. The black cable stacked behind him is fiber optic cable.

Does school seem easy now compared to having served in the military?
I think that the military was easier, because they tell you what to do! They provided structure, giving me a job, food and a place to sleep. Now that I’m in college, I have to manage and plan my own schedule and figure out everything for myself. But watching my fellow students at UCI, who are awesome at gaining knowledge, inspires me.

What are your future plans?
I don’t think I will begin my master’s degree right after the undergraduate period because I really want to jump into industry. However, if possible, I want to continue my learning while working in industry.

How do you usually spend your Veterans Day?
For the last two years, I spent my Veterans Day at home enjoying the peace and quiet while cooking or barbequing. When I was in the service, I didn’t really have an actual day off. I might get off work early, but even when I got to the barracks, we didn’t have a kitchen to cook some kind of feast. Also, I often volunteered to take the duty of my friends who had dependents to care for. In the military, someone must always stay at the post in case something happens. However, in civilian life, I have no worries and can enjoy my day off.

Anything else you want to add?
I really want to thank all the staff at UCI and my fellow students for creating and continuing a wonderful campus culture. I am really enjoying life at UCI.

Shani Murray