The United States Secret Service wanted to talk with Evan Contreras, so they sent him a letter. The document from the agency’s Seattle field office thanked Contreras for his forensic analysis of a credit card skimmer. Thieves used the device to steal information from unsuspecting customers. “It was a very slick operation,” said Contreras. “It sat right on top of the credit card reader in the checkout lane. All they [the thieves] had to do was slap it on, walk away and wait for the skimmer to start collecting information.”
Contreras, a senior majoring in information technology, interned with the Tacoma Police Department this past spring. “My first project was taking apart the skimmer,” he said. Contreras’ passion for working with his hands began in childhood. “It all started with Legos,” he said. “I still have a storage tub full of Legos underneath my bed.”
Contreras has moved from building blocks to building computers. “I’ve built three different PCs from the ground up,” he said. “It’s amazing to see something that starts as a bunch of loose parts transform into something functional.”
College has always been in Contreras’ future—whether he knew it or not. The 22 year-old credits his mother helping him get this far. “She knew I could do big things someday and she knew college was the way to make it happen,” said Contreras.
Contreras and his mother have a strong bond, one forged by years of counting on each other. “My dad isn’t in the picture,” he said. “It’s been me and my mom for as long as I can remember.” The connection between mother and son taught Contreras a lesson he couldn’t get in the classroom. “I learned that I needed to be an active participant in the household and do things like help with the laundry or clean the dishes,” he said. “I had to step up and help out where I could.”
Contreras transferred to UW Tacoma from Pierce College in the fall of 2016. “It’s been an amazing experience,” he said. “I’ve met some really great people and gotten a chance to do some really incredible things.” Case in point: Contreras’ senior project. “We took a belt-fed Nerf gun, a Raspberry Pi and a webcam and made an automated Nerf turret,” he said.
When Evan Contreras crosses the Commencement stage he’ll do something no one else in his family has done. “I’m the first person in my family to actually earn a bachelor’s degree,” he said. What does that mean for Contreras? “This process has made me a lot more aware of who I am,” he said. “I was presented with an opportunity for self-improvement and I took it.”
Makes sense for someone who likes to build: that he’d spend the most time and energy working on himself.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org