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CSpotlight: Explore What Computer Science Means to You

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

It was really close to home and I had an aunt that went through the Carlson route and she seemed to have a really fun college experience. I really like the atmosphere here and everyone seems to be really down to earth. I was also looking at going to graduate school and I saw how great research is at the U. It just felt like the perfect fit for me. 

How did you become interested in computer science?

When it comes to computer science, I feel like I have always gravitated towards technology. In my high school, they installed a new academy pipeline where you can choose which academy fits you the best and explore those classes while you are in high school. With that experience in high school, it solidified that I wanted to go into computer science. Also the mindset of breaking things apart and figuring out how they are connected to each other is something that has always come naturally to me. I was also really curious growing up so technology being so new at the time really fascinated me.

My first year at the U was completely virtual as the class of 2020, which is an interesting way to start out because I feel like I didn't really get the chance to explore other classes and interests as much. I have taken a bunch of different types of computer science classes and some of the classes I enjoyed the most were classes that focused on making small projects for myself rather than going into the field and working. I enjoyed taking internet programming and video game design - both classes had side projects where I had complete creative control. I look forward to focusing on the general aspect of software engineering this year.

Congratulations on receiving the 2022 Matt Gray Memorial Scholarship! How will the scholarship impact your academic progress?

The scholarship is really giving me the time and flexibility to decide how much I want to work this year or if I even want a side job at all. I’m the type of person that if I’m working towards a goal or task, I need to set aside time to dedicate myself to it. With the classes I’m taking this upcoming semester, I know I will need to focus on that more and make sure I know what is going on. 

The scholarship is letting me have that time to focus on the information I need to know after I graduate and work through problems on my own. That time will be very valuable to me. I have had scholarships in the past and I’m hoping this will not be my last one either!

Tell me more about the Cargill scholarship program.

Cargill gives specific students a scholarship to help with schooling but also has all recipients participate in a leadership program as well. It has been a great way to build connections at Cargill. I like learning what the company is all about and it helped me realize that there are a bunch of options post-graduation and not all computer science people need to go to a big tech company. 

Are you involved with any student groups? If so, how has your involvement impacted your academic career?

My freshman year I joined ACM-W (Associate for Computing Machinery for Women) virtually and then in my sophomore year I joined some more groups to try to get an idea of what computer science means to me. This year I am actually the president of  ACM-W. I’m excited to take that on and make sure everyone has a cool and welcoming college experience while they are in my club. I feel like the community we have in ACM-W is really strong. The group really helped me make lifelong friends and gave me a leg up in school since most of my classes were filled with familiar faces. 

My main goal as president is to make sure our community is strong. On campus clubs took a hit during the virtual years and we are still trying to recuperate. I am also making sure that I’m preparing members for graduation with technical events and seminars that can help them build connections and prepare for internships and interviews down the line. I also plan on collaborating with companies on events to help students find connections in academia and industry so they feel more confident in what they want to do before graduating.

Having the community gave me a group of people that have either taken computer science classes or are taking them with me so I have a built-in study group and people to go to for advice and tips. Even more than that, the women in ACM-W have let me know about additional opportunities within the college that I didn’t even know about. I learned about GHC (Grace Hopper Conference) from them, which is a really big deal and it helped me build connections and secure an internship. I am actually attending again this year virtually and plan to tune in more to the speakers and the presentations.

Tell us more about your internship with Microsoft. What kind of projects did you work on?

I was a Microsoft Explore intern this past summer which was really cool. It was a 12-week program in Seattle where you get to know the company and the other interns while working on a summer project. I also had the opportunity to try out project managing and see if that was something I’m interested in. I really appreciated being able to have this experience and it gave me a new perspective on what it is like to be a software engineer.  

My project was heavily in backend computing so it was a lot of working with big data and going through technical computing and database work. I hadn’t taken many classes in that area so it was cool to work through it on my own. I had to figure out how to get acclimated with something new and really take on that company mindset of making sure the product was flawless and efficient so there aren't any major issues for the user. 

Everything was user-oriented which is something I am not used to thinking about. I use technology all the time obviously when I’m online or using apps, but I have not had to apply it to my own work. I did not realize how much work is required on the developers side to make sure there aren’t any issues and ensure everything runs smoothly. Especially when there is a lot of money on the line. I also got to learn their specific coding language that is based on an “alphabet soup” of other languages that I have worked with. It was fun to piece together their different languages in a new way that somehow makes sense. 

Most of the internship focused on the mindset of working on your own and asking good questions. That was something that I really wanted to work on - asking questions that are helpful rather than empty questions that you are thinking to yourself. 

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

Explore what being a computer scientist means to you. I have talked with many students and full-time workers and everyone has their own definition of what makes their career interesting. Being an incoming student gives you the flexibility to try new computing classes and find out what you want to pursue. You can also join clubs to see what different areas of computer science could be like. It’s a good time to figure out what kind of learner you are and want to be. Figure out what does and doesn’t work for you so when you graduate you have a good idea of what you are looking for in a job and in an employer. 

In my sophomore year, I explored a bunch of different clubs to learn more about the possibilities of computer science. I joined a small Satellite Club to learn more about space technology and sat in on various meetings. I would make sure to check in with myself to figure out if the topic was something that I wanted to learn more about and focus my time on. That club was not a fit for me and I learned that I wanted to focus more on user-to-user interaction, but everyone is different. It definitely helps to sample a bunch of options so you can start narrowing in on a definition that works for you. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan on either joining the industry or pursuing my masters. I feel like I still need to narrow that down myself but I am excited to see what the future holds for me! I do plan to apply to the integrated program and look forward to seeing how that works out.