CSpotlight: A quiet leader in computer science

As a self-described introvert, B.S. student Madeline Miehle knew she would need to push herself to step outside her comfort zone at the University. By staying true to her interests and finding a community of like-minded peers through groups like the ACM-W, Madeline has been able to grow, thrive, and become a leader within the computer science program.

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

My original plan was to major in biomedical engineering and minor in computer science, so I chose the University of Minnesota because of their strong BME program. During my first semester though, I missed programming, so I made the decision to switch my major to computer science. I didn’t know much about the computer science department here, but I knew I liked the people I had met, the resources the U has, and the pace of the Midwest, so I decided to stay. The diversity and quality of the computer science courses I’ve taken have been awesome and I’m glad I chose to be here!

What sparked your interest in computer science? How does your interest in psychology relate to computer science?

My interest in computer science started in high school where I was lucky enough to take programming courses all four years. I graduated with a fondness for the creativity and problem solving that programming involves. Once I started taking computer science courses in college and diving more into the concepts and niches of the field, I realized the strength of computing as a tool for studying other disciplines that I love, like psychology. I’ve always been fascinated by human cognition and the (intentional and unintentional) parallels between our brains and modern computers. My goal is to use what I know as a computer scientist to study the brain and explore what we can do to help those with brain disorders and other functional impairments.

Tell us more about your internship with Gross Consulting.

It’s been great! As an intern, I’ve been helping to improve the functionality of their analytical suite of software, and it’s been exciting to learn more about the field of actuarial science. In my first few months, I’ve gained a lot of useful skills that I can take with me in the future, like database management and topic modeling. I’ve really enjoyed gaining work experience with a small, close-knit team of people who come from an area of study a little different than my own. Everyone is super open and supportive of my development as a young professional and a person.

What inspired you to get involved with ACM-W? What has been your favorite part about this organization so far?

I wanted to get involved with the ACM-W (Association for Computing Machinery for Women) to meet other women in computer science, as well as just become a more engaged student within the College of Science and Engineering. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and first impressions, so I tended to sit alone in class and stay out of sight. When I joined ACM-W, I felt an immediate sense of relief to be surrounded by others who might understand how it feels to be outside the majority. With the turbulence of the past few semesters, I haven’t been as involved with group events but have been able to stay connected with the group through the Discord server!

My favorite part so far was being on the sub-committee which organized the group’s second annual Women+ in Technology Showcase in November 2019. The event went really well and I appreciated the opportunity to chat and work with one of the computer science advisors in a really relaxed and encouraging atmosphere.

How has the Bhimani Family Scholarship helped you in your academic journey?

The Bhimani Family Scholarship alleviated some of my financial pressure, especially since I am an out-of-state student. I've been able to dedicate more of myself to my courses, instead of worrying about my student debt. It was such an honor for me to receive this scholarship—I often have doubts about my intelligence and dedication, so being recognized for my academic achievements and contributions to student body diversity was amazing and affirming.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students, given that you have been a Welcome Week leader?

To start, I want to mention something that I feel doesn't get addressed enough. The advice shared with first-year students is typically all the same—join a student group, go to office hours, network as much as possible, etc. I felt like if I didn’t start to think of my career the moment I sat down in my first lecture, I was already behind. I think it’s important to recognize that this system and way of thinking doesn’t work for everyone, and that it’s okay to encourage someone to push their boundaries without forcing the same cookie-cutter pathway. For me, being a Welcome Week leader helped me realize a lot of this and also helped me understand my own quiet leadership style.

To all students, I would say if you’re not comfortable with going to the career fair your first semester, it’s okay. If you aren’t in six study groups by the end of week one, that’s okay too. Take your time and push yourself when and how you can, and ask for help along the way!

To computer science students, I would say both Keller Hall and Walter Library are great places to study. Also, I would highly suggest you consider a minor (or even a double major) because having another area of study can help you apply what you learn as a programmer to things that inspire you.

What are your plans after graduation?

I would love to continue my internship with Gross Consulting and lead a growing team dedicated to software development within the company. I’m also been interested in applying to graduate schools and getting my Master’s in psychology or computer science. I’m excited to see where my final semesters as an undergraduate will lead me.