CSpotlight: Embracing Opportunities
Why did you choose to pursue a degree in computer science specifically at the University of Minnesota?
I decided to pursue computer science because I’ve always considered myself to be technologically inclined. I have loved technology since I was young. For me, it started when I got my first personal device, which was an iPod touch. I was so ecstatic when I got it for Christmas in fourth grade. I wanted to immerse myself in the technology as much as possible. I would read forums about iPods and how you can jail break them, and how you can use iTunes to do different things with them.
In sixth grade we had an hour of coding each day at school with the code.org initiative. It was block-based coding and we created an Angry Birds-type of game. I found that to be super fun and interesting. In high school, I was able to dive deeper into computer science. I took an introduction to programming class in 10th grade which covered Java Script and Ruby. That class really focused on web development and front-end work.
From there I realized that I wanted to do something in engineering, so I took classes in calculus and physics to align myself with that field. In 11th grade I did a program called Project Lead the Way which explored the principles of engineering and introduced all of the engineering disciplines, including computer engineering. I worked on a project where we designed and programmed a robot. I just fell in love with coding even more. It’s so cool that you can create something and it is so satisfying to see your code run.
I decided to attend the University of Minnesota because of some of the scholarships I was being offered. Also, I had researched the Department of Computer Science & Engineering and saw all the cool research being done. It just felt like the best place to go for my degree and interests.
What are your specific interests within the field?
Right now, I am really interested in human-computer interaction (HCI). I am actually trying to make that a track within my major and am working with some professors that do a lot of work with HCI to make that happen.
Industry-wise, I’m interested in software consulting. Most of these positions are actually low-code or no-code, but they require extensive knowledge about software engineering practices and computer science theory. I figured consulting would be a good way to blend my interpersonal skills with my technical skill.
Congratulations on earning the Hopper-Dean scholarship! How will this scholarship impact your academic and extracurricular work?
The scholarships I have received have been some of the most rewarding parts about college. For me, they really served as a confidence booster. I suffer from imposter syndrome and earning scholarships just gives me the recognition I need to keep going knowing that my hard work is being noticed and celebrated. I am grateful that I chose the University of Minnesota. I am paying for college myself and the extra money has given me the financial freedom to do my best.
Tell us more about your internship experiences at 3M.
This past summer I worked in the Corporate Research Systems Lab at 3M. They look at systems and processes within the company. A lot of the research focuses on the process of creating materials. I did database research and analysis. So I would receive the information that was collected on the materials line and would process it so it is easy for people to read and understand. Originally I was supposed to be a full-stack engineer, but the position changed and I just rolled with it.
Are you involved in any student groups? What inspired you to get involved? What do you hope to contribute to the computer science community at the University?
I am involved in Black Student Union and National Society of Black Engineers. I am also on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the College of Science and Engineering Student Board. The group I do the most with is the Northstar STEM Alliance. They have helped me with a lot of funding and getting in touch with research opportunities. It is a great community of people who are doing similar things and we help each other with professional development.
In college I found that I have a passion for professional development, so most of the groups I am in revolved around that. I see it as a way to better yourself and create a pipeline to getting a job that you love post-grad. Plus the mentorship aspect is really rewarding.
Tell us more about your experiences mentoring STEM students at Minnehaha Academy.
I mentored and taught two classes at Minnehaha Academy - Introduction to Python (6-8) and Scratch (K-5). This was a unique experience for me because it taught me what it is like to work in a classroom. In previous experiences, I always had someone else in the class with me, but there I was the main teacher. It taught me how to run a classroom and how to present information to kids in a way they will understand. I had a lot of freedom in the curriculum and I got to connect with them and figure out how to get them interested in the subject on my own. When I finished working, the kids in my Scratch class made me a little thank you note and it was awesome to see that impact. Programming is an amazing tool and the younger you start, the better.
Have you been involved with any research on campus?
I am currently applying to work with GroupLens. I would love to work with them so we will see what happens!
What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?
Take every opportunity you come across. You never know what might happen. When I learned about the departmental scholarship opportunities, I didn’t know what to expect and it was really a shot in the dark. If you take the chance, something great might come back to you. I struggled with imposter syndrome when I first started out in college. I don’t look like most of the other students in CS&E and I didn’t know if I would belong here. But STEM is for everyone...just being yourself is enough! I’m super passionate about diversity in STEM and am adamant that as the tech world is growing each day, people from every single background need to be represented in that space. In every role. In every capacity. So don’t doubt yourself, and don’t disqualify yourself. Realize that programming is a tool that can open an entire world of opportunities, but you have to be open to receiving them. If you are able to get motivation internally or externally to take a chance, you will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish. I don’t consider myself to be any more special than the next student - I have gotten where I am simply by being open to receive the opportunities that have come my way.
What are your plans after graduation?
I have accepted an offer to work with the company EY-Parthenon as a Software Strategy Associate out of their Los Angeles office, so I will be moving there after graduation and could not be more excited about it!