Leah Miller

Attending Carnegie Mellon University and earning a computer science degree was not always the obvious path for me. I have always enjoyed math and science and had once planned on becoming a math major. Then I entered a special medical sciences program in my New Jersey high school, which required students to take a Computer Science course. The class fielded a five-person team, of which I was a member, to compete in a programming contest in Houston. We did not win the contest, but my team competed well against the top programming teams in the nation, and I found myself really enjoying programming. Both my father, a computer engineer, and high school CS teacher supported my interest. I became involved in the American Computer Science League, in which I discovered the variety of areas that CS encompasses. Although I still had some trouble deciding what I wanted to major in, I eventually chose CS because I felt I could use it in almost anything down the road.

Upon arriving at CMU, I found that I really appreciated the diversity lf a campus that had a good CS program without being strictly technical. CMU excels in many areas and the students have lots of different talents. The required minor for the CS program allows exploration of other interests outside of the CS department. I liked the availability of interdisciplinary courses and research projects with other departments.

My participation in the School of Computer Science started when I was a Course Assistant for 15-127, one of the introductory programming classes. Working on the Women@SCS committee involved me in other aspects of the School. I have made suggestions for changing the curriculum, helped decide how classes should be run, created and planned social events, and worked on projects like the ongoing Big/Little Sister program which pairs up upperclassmen and freshmen women in CS. I have interacted with the administrators a lot more than I would have otherwise and have been pleasantly surprised at how interested they are in student opinions and making improvements for the school.

Outside the School of Computer Science, I partaken a variety of activities. I work with the Office of Admissions to organize and run student panel discussions for potential students at the Sleeping Bag Weekends for incoming freshmen. I do ballroom dance, and spending time with my friends is very important to me. I have been a contact person for the Office of International Studies, which involves working with foreign students.

This past summer, I found a job through the Pittsburgh Technology Council website working for a company that makes computer-assisted surgical tools in conjunction with a medical robotics lab here at CMU. The job was beneficial on many levels, and I still work there part-time. The commercializing aspect of the company ties in well with my business minor. I work directly with the research and surgical teams. After watching a surgery, I can ask the surgeon what changes would be useful and then immediately make those changes. I have achieved my primary goal of being in a position to help people using my CS technical background. During my first few semesters at CMU, it was hard to see how the knowledge gained in fundamental programming courses could be applied to the real world. Being able to use technical skills outside of the classroom has rejuvenated my enthusiasm about CS.

I am now involved in a semester-long project utilizing CS to improve the community. I got a Small Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG) grant and outside funding to work with 5th-8th grade students in local schools , building a Lego city with new robotics technology components. The project is fun, and I enjoy helping kids learn about technology.

I would advise hesitant CS women to stick with it for a while. Although I was confident about my own skills coming into CMU, I found more experienced people extremely intimidating. I have realized that you do not have to be an expert to begin with; you just have to be willing to work and learn. Even when the fundamentals classes seem intimidating, boring, or just inapplicable, remember that soon you will have many more options to explore applications that interest you. Try not to let initial trepidation keep you from your dreams.

As a woman in CS, I know that thinking differently can be nerve-wracking. Keep in mind that seeing things from different perspectives is a valuable asset. Joining Women@SCS and speaking with upperclassmen has motivated me through tough times. Sometimes it really helps to talk to people who have already been there.

I have come to understand and appreciate the diverse student body and activities outside CS. The only problem I still have is not having enough time to do everything I want to do!

- written by Tania Liebowitz

  • You may contact Leah Miller via email: lbmiller@andrew.cmu.edu