A couple things make Dan Walker unique
Dan Walker, a computer science student at the University of Pittsburgh, is the son of Kurt and Cindy Walker of Somerset. (Staff photo by Brian Schrock)
But there are at least two things that make Walker unique: his near-genius-level IQ and the fact that he already owns his own business.
Walker, 22, of Somerset is a co-founder of RoommateFit, an online tool that pairs college roommates based on complementary personality traits.
"It's kind of like an eHarmony for roommates," he said.
Pitt business student Justin Mares came up with the idea for RoommateFit. He approached students in the school's computer science department to help give form to his vision.
"I came to work with Dan after pitching a computer science open house event held at Pitt," Mares said in an email. "I needed a co-founder and he showed a lot of interest after I pitched.
"We worked together for a few weeks and he was incredibly smart and motivated so I brought him on full time and he's been great to work with. None of this would have happened without him."
Walker was soon developing an algorithm for the project, which uses a psychologist-approved assessment to pair students. Walker said the online survey goes beyond the standard university questions about drug use, smoking and wake-up times.
"We look at those things and a lot more," he said. "And then we take that all into account and try to generate a profile."
The goal, Walker said, is to minimize conflicts, which can lead to unhappy students, low GPAs and poor retention rates for universities.
"The idea is that you get along really well with your roommate, that you don't argue about things," he said. "You don't have to be friends. You just have to be able to live together and not step on each other's toes."
Ohio University is running a pilot of the program.
"We're talking with a few others right now," he said. "There's interest. No written agreements yet but some verbal confirmations that schools would like to try it. We're going to expand out from that."
Walker performs the work because he enjoys it. Simply put: He does what interests him. And many things interest him.
"I have big goals, I think," he said. "I enjoy what I do and I think that's the key. As long as you're happy with what you're doing, you can do whatever."
Walker credits his father, Kurt, with sparking his interest in building things and solving problems. When Walker was a child, his father — an agricultural engineer turned farmer — built him a hovercraft using an inner tube, plywood and a carefully placed leaf blower.
"It wasn't fancy. It was real limited," he said. "You just got on and floated for a little bit."
Walker also speaks highly of his high school physics teacher, Homer Kreinbrook Jr., chairman of the Somerset high school science department. In addition to the class, Walker was a member of the chain reaction contraption team and scholastic quiz team.
"I gave him a hard time. I really did," Walker said. "But I really enjoyed his class. He was very supportive and he was a very good teacher."
Kreinbrook said Walker was the type of student who would challenge his teachers.
"He never accepted the status quo," he said. "That's fine. That keeps a teacher on their toes. I think his favorite words were "why" and "how do you know?"
As a student, Walker displayed a strong business acumen and a voracious appetite for knowledge, Kreinbrook said.
"As a person, Dan was always very self-aware," he said. "He knew where he was going and he had a plan to get there."
Walker's plan is to earn a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Pittsburgh by the end of April. After that he will pursue a master's degree. He said a doctorate would actually limit his job opportunities.
"With a Ph.D. (in computer science) you have the knowledge and capability to develop something very advanced," he said. "So who needs that? Apple, Microsoft, the government, maybe some universities, and that's about it."
Walker's minor is in the classics, or the study of Greek and Roman history. It's another area of interest.
"I always liked the Romans, just because they were the big (thing)," he said. "You go back in history. It's in the Bible. It's in everything. They were the big empire. Once you start studying, you see they really changed the world. Western culture is entirely Greco-Roman. That's all it is."
In his spare time, Walker uses Skype to teach English to a Chinese friend of a friend. He enjoys watching episodes of "Ancient Aliens" on the History Channel and wonders why the network doesn't offer more programming on — well — history.
"What is 'Swamp People'? What is that?" he said, injecting even more enthusiasm into his booming voice. "It's great that they are looking at that, but it's not really a History Channel show."
Walker was recently admitted to Mensa, the high IQ society, based on test scores he earned as a second-grader. When he received a press packet from the organization announcing the honor, he was hesitant to send it to the local newspaper.
"I'm proud of it but at the same time it's blowing your own horn," he said with a laugh.
Membership, Walker said, comes with a snazzy card, networking opportunities and discounts on things such as subscriptions to Popular Science and "toys for geeks."
"It has ties with Geico," he said. "You get cheap insurance."
Walker also has an interest in the stock market and politics. He said he would like to run for office some day. For the time being, however, he is focused on returning from spring break, earning his degree and growing his upstart business.
"I do want to be able to look back and be happy with what I've done," he said. "And really that's the best way to do it, I think."