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CSpotlight: Involvement for Personal Growth

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

I honestly did not have an interest in computer science before taking CSCI-1133. It was my first introductory class into computer science with Professor Nathan Taylor and it was the time of my life. I really loved it and I immediately switched my academic focus. 

Originally, I was planning on being pre-med, but honestly I can’t memorize things. What I liked about this class was that it was all about problem solving. It felt like a game; I got to solve puzzles. I think I also liked the creativity of it. I get to create something and then get to see it work. 

As for the U of M, I always knew I wanted to go there. I am local and a bunch of my friends and family members went there. I felt like I already had a community. Plus there is a great local music scene in the city.

After you made the switch, what kept you interested in computer science?

I like that this field is very versatile so I can work anywhere I want. I could work in areas that interest me, like sustainability or healthcare. I’m not sure where I would want to work yet so it’s nice to have options. Plus it’s very easy to work remotely. 

I have been doing a lot of software engineering. I don’t think data science would be a fit for me because I’m not great at statistics, but I want to keep exploring different areas of computer science.  

Congratulations on receiving the 2021 IAC Scholarship! How has the scholarship impacted your academic progress?

It’s nice to have scholarships to ease the financial burden of school. My parents help me a bit but this helps me do more of what I want to do. I was able to study abroad in Sweden during the 2022 spring semester which I funded with the IAC scholarship.

What made you decide to study abroad?

I love traveling. I have been thinking about studying abroad since I was in high school. It was always part of the plan. I like seeing how other cultures are and how other people live. Plus as an international student I had other international friends. I had friends from Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, Belgium, Japan, France, and all over the world. It was cool to learn about different customs and learn about other places.

I took four computer science courses that should be able to transfer over when I was studying in Sweden. It was cool to learn about the different lifestyle and pace they have for school and work. Chalmers in Sweden is a partner school, and on top of that I was interested in Sweden because they are very sustainable and have a great healthcare system and everything there is really modernized. I wanted to experience that. Plus it is a really beautiful country.

They have a really great work-life balance. Once they are done with work, they are done with work. But inside work, they really work. I really liked that and it was great to see how they prioritize wellbeing. I did also learn a bunch of technical things from my classes as well. I took a software engineering class, a security class, human-computer interaction, and intro to data science and artificial intelligence.

Tell us more about the various internships you have had. What kind of projects did you work on?

At UnitedHealth Group, everything was fully-remote and I worked on a lot of backend projects. It was good exposure to software and platforms that are important in the workplace. It was great to have some hands-on experience outside what I learned in school. That position definitely helped me build my resume and get the position with Nike. It also helped to get a sense of team dynamics and then I had a better idea of what to expect for future jobs.

For my Nike role this summer, there were 30,000 applicants and 300 interns. We are all split into different teams. My personal project over the summer is with the pricing team. I work on a dashboard to show key metrics for internal pricing teams. That will help these teams get the key performance indicators in a digestible way that they can easily use to make decisions. One metric I am working on is measuring the time between the time a price is set to the time it is sold, so I will incorporate that into the dashboard.

On top of that we did this hackathon, a 16-hour coding event and then a presentation that Nike put on for us. It was a very insightful experience to have. We had to come up with our own project and implement it on a randomly assigned team. I was able to do some front end work for that, more of the visuals, and I had previously only done backend work. I got to work with HTML, which I haven’t had to touch since middle school. 

What student groups are you involved with? How has your involvement impacted your academic career?

The first student group I started off with is MCAE (Multicultural Academic Excellence). I was a kick-off leader my sophomore year, and I did some training to help onboard multicultural freshmen to the U of M prior to “Welcome Week”. I had a group of 15 people with my partner and it was a three-week online event. Usually it would be a three-day overnight event in person. We help them transition from high school to college, especially if they attended a more diverse high school. The University is predominantly white, but there are a bunch of resources and we share that and instill that support system. I participated in this program when I was a freshman and everything was in person. It was cool to come back as a leader and help develop that community. I am still connected with the people I met through MCAE.

I am also a College of Science and Engineering International Ambassador. It is similar to MCAE, but it is a year-long mentorship with international students and freshman students so they have someone to reach out to with questions. Most of my mentees are in computer science and I help them pick classes, set their schedule, help with homework, life advice, or whatever they want to utilize the time for. I love helping people and I think I am approachable and friendly. I want people to feel welcomed and comfortable talking to someone. I know when I was in their position I would have loved to have had someone to talk to, so I want to make sure I can be that person for others. I like to think that I can be a friend, resource, and mentor. 

I was in VSAM, the Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota. I don’t actively participate anymore but I was their marketing coordinator for a bit and helped them promote shows with fliers, t-shirts, graphics and such. Occasionally I still perform as well. I sing and my friend and I would sing Vietnamese songs at their shows. I like having a Vietnamese community on campus. It makes me feel more supported and I can express a different side of myself that I can’t normally express without speaking Vietnamese. 

I think I need to have another outlet outside of school. Being involved keeps me sane and grounded. It helps me express a different side of myself and allows me to be more creative and social and engaged. It definitely supports my academic work.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

As a freshman I was so confused in classes and I thought everyone else knew what was going on. Other people looked like they knew what they were doing and I was just sitting there feeling so lost. But once you talk to people, you realize they are just as lost as you are. Maybe people approach things differently than you do, but your strengths might be their weaknesses and vice versa. So talking to people and asking for help is necessary. It is scary at first, but once you start asking it gets easier. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I would love to continue working at Nike if I get an offer. I am also considering going to grad school at some point. I think I want to keep working and get that industry experience and maybe explore that later.

Are there any additional experiences you did that you would like to highlight in the article?

I have been passionate about music since I was a kid. I would sing in front of the TV and I started learning to play instruments when I was in fourth grade. I used to be insecure about singing but eventually joined choir and orchestra in high school. I made my first song in high school and then I just kept working on music. I have released some music on Spotify and Apple Music. It is something that is just for me and I love that.