CSpotlight: An ardent advocate for women in STEM

Preeti Pitadala is already making her mark on the computer science community. In addition to exploring her academic interests in robotics and AI, she is dedicated to broadening participation in computing outside the classroom. Her true passion is advocating for women in STEM and she's been teaching and inspiring the next generation of female computer scientists since high school.

Why did you choose to study computer science at the University of Minnesota?

I'm really passionate about robotics, and the Minnesota Robotics Institute and programs really stood out to me! There are so many exciting opportunities at the University—both inside and outside of the classroom. I am a part of the University’s Honors program, so I really value smaller class sizes and more engaging class options. Plus I am from Minnesota!

What sparked your interest in computer science?

In high school, I was the captain of my school’s F.I.R.S.T Robotics team. I worked on the software development aspect of the team, which definitely solidified my decision to pursue computer science further. I'm a very hands-on person, so I'm most excited to learn more about robotics and artificial intelligence. These are both areas where you are able to see the product of your hard work. I also like that these two fields require a good deal of creative thinking, and force you to think outside of the box to come up with solutions.

Tell us about your upcoming internship with Microsoft.

I am extremely excited for my summer internship with Microsoft! I will be working with the Artificial Intelligence Platform team and I'm looking forward to the hands-on learning experience ahead of me.

What inspired you to be part of the Association for Computing Machinery for Women (ACM-W)?

I have always been very involved with efforts to increase the retention of women in STEM. During high school, I taught free coding camps, helped Girl Scouts earn their STEM badges, and spoke with school administrators about women in STEM retention. I was also a three-time recipient of the National Center of Women in Information Technology's Aspirations in Computing award, which recognizes women for their involvement, passion, and positive influence in STEM. Additionally, I was a recipient of Taco Bell's Live Más Scholarship for my passion for computer science and making it a more inclusive space.

ACM-W offers the perfect platform for me to advocate for the retention of women in STEM on campus. I find a lot of value in bringing opportunities and education to my underrepresented peers in technology. As the Corporate Outreach Officer, I have also learned a lot about coordinating with companies and networking.

Tell us more about your work as an instructor for STEM Builders Learning Center.

I started as an instructor during high school. In this role, I teach students ranging from elementary school to early high school. So far, I have taught introductory Python and Java classes, LEGO robotics classes, website design classes, and interactive drag and drop game design classes! The mission of the learning center is to increase access and interest to computer science at all ages and levels, which aligns with my passions as well. This position also gives me the opportunity to share my passion for computer science with others! My favorite part of teaching is when students understand a difficult concept or problem after struggling with it for a while and feel accomplished. It is really rewarding to see younger students excited about learning more about something that I am passionate about!

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

My advice is to become involved with student groups and clubs that you are truly passionate about because I think it's a great way to meet other students who have similar interests as you! I would also highly recommend networking with and learning from the experiences of older students, because they are a great resource and often have a lot of valuable insight.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation, I hope to work in the corporate computer science world for a while, but would like to ultimately shift to more hands on robotics work, and perhaps even create my own startup!