UC Irvine’s men’s volleyball team doesn’t have to travel far to face top competition, as seven of the top 11 teams in the latest national poll hail from California. This year, however, the Anteaters began their season in Illinois, traveling to face Lewis University and Loyola University Chicago, two of the four non-California teams atop the volleyball world. This Midwest road trip was especially meaningful for senior setter and Chicago-area native Dante Chakravorti, who will be graduating with a degree in computer science from the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences this year.
“I was really excited we got to go home and play against Lewis and Loyola, two schools I grew up watching,” says Chakravorti. “To have friends and family come out and see me play after a lot of them haven’t seen me play in three or four years was a really cool experience.”
Chakravorti and a couple of teammates who also hailed from the Midwest traveled to the region ahead of the rest of the Anteaters to hold a training camp and re-connect with loved ones before defeating Loyola in five sets and Lewis in four. The trip served as a volleyball homecoming of sorts for the players (all three are upperclassmen), but Chakravorti hadn’t been gone for long.
The computer science major spent two weeks last summer working on a research project at the University of Chicago and DePaul University, helping a group of researchers track mental health issues such as suicide and depression in social media data from sites such as Reddit. As a result of his work, Chakravorti was part of a published paper titled “Detecting and Characterizing Topic Trends in Online Mental Health Discussions” and traveled to Singapore over Thanksgiving break to present his work at the IEEE International Conference on Data Mining.
“What’s unique about being a computer science student right now is you have opportunities that in other fields you may not get until after school while you’re still in school,” says Chakravorti. “The project I worked on last summer was fascinating to me, and what was important to me was doing some computer science [research] outside of the classroom and realizing that I have the ability to get into a project and sink my teeth into something and try to help.”
Chakravorti settled on computer science as his major about halfway through his freshman year at UCI after taking some math and electrical engineering courses. He had no programming experience, but he enjoyed classes in STEM fields in high school and tried a computer science course after encouragement from his mother, who is an associate dean in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media.
“When you’re in a Python class, building basic software, you can see how it would be used in the future and that really appealed to me,” says Chakravorti. “Between that and the flexibility and the problem-solving aspects of it, I fell in love with it pretty quickly.”
This wasn’t the first time Chakravorti had fallen in love with an activity after his mother encouraged him to try it out. In middle school, he played soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter, but he needed a spring sport to fill out his calendar. His mother suggested volleyball, a sport she’d played growing up in Italy. Chakravorti enjoyed the speed of the game and quickly developed an aptitude for it. He joined a club team, and as he helped lead his high school team to two Illinois state championships, the dream of playing college volleyball at the highest level became a reality.
“I got to know [UCI volleyball] coach [David] Kniffin a little bit through … the USA pipeline,” says Chakravorti. “By the end [of the recruiting process], UCI was one of the only schools on the west coast that was willing to give me a shot. I’m very grateful to him for that opportunity. … I love playing the best week-in and week-out here.”
Chakravorti has certainly taken advantage of his opportunity, as he’s been one of the best setters in the country over the last two seasons. He earned an All-Big West honorable mention after a junior season that saw him average 10.5 assists per set, second in the conference and fifth in the country. This year, he’s again averaging 10.5 assists per set, fourth best in the nation, and has helped the Anteaters rise to third in the country with conference play (and battles with top-ranked Long Beach State and No. 2 Hawaii) on the horizon.
Following his senior season, Chakravorti hopes to play volleyball professionally overseas, but he plans to return to computer science soon after.
“The world has changed so fast in terms of the amount of data that we’re going to be able to have,” says Chakravorti. “That’s going to make projects that seemed impossible more and more possible, whether that’s self-driving cars or medical diagnosis assistance. I would love to work on a project that can help people like that.”
— Michael Stern
Read a related profile about Chakravorti at UCIrvineSports.com.