CSpotlight: Expanding horizons through computing

From being an undergrad researcher, intern, teaching assistant, and exchange student, B.S. student Anjali Oleksy will have taken full advantage of the opportunities available at the University of Minnesota when she graduates this December. A highlight: spending a semester studying abroad in Puerto Rico and taking an algorithms and machine architecture course taught 100% in Spanish!

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

When I first started at the University, I was planning to major in chemistry or chemical engineering. I was looking for a major that offered flexibility in career options—and one where graduate school was not a necessity. I also knew I wanted to study abroad.

My advisor suggested I take an introductory programming class, which I ended up excelling in and found extremely interesting.

The computer science path ultimately offered me flexibility and the challenge I enjoy. I am interested in medicine and public health, and I realized that studying computer science could be a way for me to get involved in the field without needing to go to medical school. I am also interested in sustainability and discovered that there are many intersections with computer science there as well.

When I entered the major, I wasn’t really aware of the uniqueness of our program and the people that make it great— I'm so proud to be here and to be a part of the computer science department.

Tell us more about your study abroad program. What was a valuable lesson that you learned from it?

Studying in San Juan, Puerto Rico through the National Student Exchange (NSE) expanded my horizons academically, socially, and professionally. I was at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and have the opportunity to study Spanish as well as take some computer science classes (that were approved by our department as equivalent).

It was out of my comfort zone to start at a new university where I knew no one, however, I quickly made friends with locals and other exchange students. All my classes (including algorithms and machine architecture) were taught in Spanish! Although this required a little more focus, I learned that most people would go out of their way to help. It was cool to see how computer science is similar and different in another part of the world.

What made you decide to become a TA? What did you enjoy most about the experience?

I wanted to be a TA to offer representation and a role model to underrepresented people in computer science. When I started, I didn’t have any TAs that looked like me, and I didn’t relate to or have many friends in my classes. This has the potential to alienate students. I am passionate about educating people that computer science is for everyone. It certainly affects everyone, and ethical progress is possible when people trust technology with an active role.

I enjoyed seeing my students succeed! In the lab, sometimes students get frustrated, and it's so worthwhile to see when a concept clicks for them.

Tell us more about your internships. How did your academic background help prepare you for these positions?

I have done two internships—one with Shell and another with Eli Lilly. Both internships I found out about through INROADS, a scholarship program that connects students with professional development opportunities.

My classes have helped me learn to pick up new tools quickly, which I think is one of the most important skills. My classes have not only given me technical skills but also helped me develop problem-solving skills and recognize when to reach out for advice.

How did you start doing research with GroupLens? Tell us more about the projects that you worked on.

GroupLens is a social computing lab. I got involved with the lab after hearing about it through a friend. I worked under Dr. Lana Yarosh and worked with a small team on data analysis and data collection. Our end goal was to measure social connectedness through an application (a chat/support app for parents). We pulled data from the application and conducted connectedness surveys of childcare programs in the Twin Cities area.

What other student groups are you involved with?

I’m the External Relations Director for the Science and Engineering Student Board (SESB). This group is the official undergraduate governing body of the College of Science and Engineering (CSE). Being involved with SESB has allowed me to be more connected with the administration, learn about available resources, and meet a lot of other people in CSE that are outside of my major.

Advocacy for the larger student body is important to me, and this is what attracted me to join SESB. Meeting other CSE student group leaders and working with my fellow board members inspires me to see what is possible.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

My advice is to never limit yourself, and if you are passionately determined, you can do anything you set your mind to.

Join as many groups as you can—connectedness has been significant for me throughout my time here.

Also, learning from your failures and mistakes can open doors—so don’t be afraid to push yourself, take risks, and be curious.

What are your plans after graduation?

I am planning to travel out of the country for a couple of months. Then I plan to start a full-time job with Eli Lilly in Indianapolis next April.