I had the best four years of my life at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Here, I transformed from a shy girl who couldn't even talk to guys to a leader in various organizations, speaker at many events, and the initiator of multiple programs. Everything I dreamt of doing came true in my four years at CMU.
Ironically, I didn't even know about CMU until my senior year in high school when I overheard some guy in my Physics class who wanted to apply for CMU's computer science program. Then I found out that CMU has the best computer science program in the country.I would have never gotten interested in computer science if it weren't for my high school teacher who gave a moving speech about how computer science can be used and the importance of getting more females interested in the subject.Her speech inspired me to sign up for Computer Science I in Perl.I did well in the class and liked programming for what it can do. I love teaching, so at that time, I thought I could write educational software programs for children.
However, I chose CMU because it also had top rankings in other fields such as engineering, business, fine arts, and more.Since I am interested in many subjects, I thought I'd be able to switch majors or double major and still receive an excellent education. I was accepted into both computer science and electrical computer engineering (ECE).At first, I chose ECE as a major.But midway through my first semester as an ECE major, I switched to computer science because I caused some small explosions in ECE labs, and more importantly, I just could not see myself dealing with circuits for a living. In addition, I minored in Business Administrations and Mathematics to expand my interests.
Computer science courses were very difficult, but I thought no pain, no gain. So I stuck with the major knowing that if other people can handle it, so can I. What made being a female in computer science even harder in 1997 was that I had to deal with comments like "you got in just because you were a girl." I felt like I always had to prove myself to my male peers in order for my ideas to be heard. Many times, I had to seek help from teacher assistants (TA) and professors and use "the TA (or professor) so-and-so said..." to get the guys to listen to me. But this made me tougher and more determined to prove the those guys wrong, that females are just as good as males in learning computer science. I thought the first two years in the major were the hardest because I had to get used to the college life and catch up to guys who have been programming since they were in grade school. I was determined to do well. Fortunately, I wasn't alone, there were lots of support from TAs, professors, and peers.
After the first two programming-intensive years, I got to choose CS electives that were more interesting such as Database Applications and Artificial Intelligence. I no longer dreaded the classes because I realized that the worst was over. I used the knowledge I gained in both classes in my summer internship at Morgan Stanley as an e-commerce summer analyst building a global e-commerce platform for the salesmen and traders worldwide.My internship made me realize how much CMU students are respected and valued in the industry.
Looking back at my academic career at CMU, it was like hiking; the first two years were the up hills, and at times it was so difficult that I wanted to give up. But persistence and encouragements from upper classmen and friends gave me the push to continue. By the time of my third year, I could see the peak of the mountain; I knew then that all the hard work will pay off. When I finally graduated, it was as if I have conquered the mountain.I could see the whole world below my feet. I felt invincible- nothing could be harder than my years at CMU, and all the hard work was worth it!
But what I treasure even more from my years in college were the opportunities available for growth. I had never held a leadership position until my second year at CMU, when I became an RA (resident advisor) because I wanted to provide a sense of community among students in the dorm and share my experiences with them. This was when my personality really opened up.I met over 100 people in that year alone and realized what a diverse campus we had and how friendly the students were on campus. I grew to love the people at CMU. At the end of my sophomore year, I decided to continue my desire to help students by becoming an academic counselor teaching students studying skills. There, I had the opportunity to launch the first study workshop for computer science majors (http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~women/global/aceCSTips.htm).
Then at the end of my junior year, I heard about Women@SCS Advisory Council's ad for a webmaster for the website.I was so excited to see that finally an organization for women in computer science exists. I became involved as a webmaster for the site and an active member of the council. I was involved with the organization as it grew and brought changes to the community of females in computer science .Before the existence of Women@SCS, there was no sense of community among the females in computer science, partly because there were so few females, about 10-20% of the department. With the many events offered by Women@SCS, we have introduced females in the major to each other, and created bonds of sisterhood and friendship among the CS female community. It was great to know that I had support of my peers and that I could share my experiences with others.
As the leader of the web team, our goal was to make the Women@SCS website a destination for females in computer science.We wanted to provide resources and a sense of community using the website.The website went through evolutionary changes.We had graduate students in the Introduction to Human Computer Interaction class evaluate and recommend changes for the website.We revamped the entire site, from its look and feel, content organization, to interface design.We will be adding more functions to make the site more interactive such as bboard and polls in the future. Our effort paid off and the website made the cover story of the Post-Gazette in April of 2001.
In addition to classes and jobs, I had the opportunity to do my thesis research with the former associate dean of computer science at CMU, Allan Fisher, who is now the CEO of Carnegie Technology Education, a subsidiary of CMU. My research topic was "Redesigning an Introductory Java Course to Bridge the Gender Gap in Computer Science Education". Thanks to the guidance of Allan Fisher, I won the second price in the IBM Information Technology and Services Solution Competition for Women.This research also allowed me to lead a panel discussion in the Girls, Technology, and Education conference held by Women@SCS.Through doing the research and the support of Women@SCS, I voiced my ideas to the department to change the CS curriculum to better suit the needs of students especially dealing with the gender issues.
On May 20, 2001, I graduated with University and College honors, Senior Leadership Award, Carnegie Mellon Women's Association Outstanding Senior Woman in the School of Computer Science Award, and My Heart is in the Works Award for being an RA.
I would not be who I am now without the support of faculty members like Lenore Blum, faculty advisor for Women@SCS and professor of Computer Science, Linda Hooper, supervisor of Academic Development, and Dean Murphy, Dean of Student Affairs and House Fellow of Doherty Apartments. They showed by example, the ways of becoming a leader.
Next year, I'll be working in midtown Manhattan, New York, as a consultant in the Technology Competency group for Andersen Consulting (Accenture). I'll surely miss CMU, all my friends and the staff members who have helped me along the way.The most important words that I will always keep in mind are "Life is full of choices, and you are in control of your life. Set a goal and be determined to reach it. When there's a will, there's a way.
Graduating class: 2001 (CS - Minors: Business Administration and Mathematics)
Job: Northrop Gumman IT- Analyst
What is your job like?
I work for a government contracting firm and my task is to support the Army Chief of Systems Engineering in developing guidance for the implementation of Integrated Digital Environment (IDE) for the U.S. Army. It basically means helping the Army move into e-business working environments. My job is more like that of a consultant. I work at the high-level aspects of system engineering - I don't code at all. We are developing guidelines to direct program managers of the Army to implement IDE. We run pilot programs at different program offices and work with E-business vendors, program managers, and Office of the Secretary of Defense to initiate the e-business movement and aid in its progress.
How do you feel about graduating from CMU?
Having earned a CS degree from Carnegie Mellon University gave me a lot of credentials in the working world. I was really surprised to realize how much respect the industry and government have for our school. They consult with CMU for technological resources (i.e. Software Engineering Institute) and they also contract with our school for technical needs.
Any "Words of Wisdom" for Women@SCS?
Don't forget to balance your academic and social life. People skills are one of the most important skills in the real world. Become involved in leadership positions when you can. There seems to be a major difference in perspectives between a business- person and a technology-person. The business-person thinks that business is what drives the company and technology person thinks that technology is what enables the company. However, the business lacks understanding of technology and the technology person lacks the communication skills to make the business person understand the importance of technology and how it impacts the business. What it comes down to is that business-people control the budget and therefore if they can't understand a technology view, your ideas will not be addressed. Therefore it is important to understand how to present your ideas to a different audience-- you can take Business Communications or other communication classes to help you in that aspect.
Any recommended courses for the undergrads?
- Database Applications - needed skills for industry
- Artificial Intelligence - helps with the trend towards e-business, data mining, knowledge management, etc.
- Business communications/Interpersonal communications - helps develop your people skills and presentation skills that are really important when you begin working -- if you can't present an idea, you don't have an idea.