University of Washington
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I had wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember, but while I was in high school and doing a job shadowing project, I fainted while watching a dog undergoing surgery! I realized I probably needed to find a new career path after that. I had been spending a lot of time online and chatting with people on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and was amazed by how useful the Internet was in connecting me to places and people beyond the small town where I grew up. One of my online friends encouraged me to try out programming, and so I did. It was really fun and I was hooked! After that, I decided to pursue computer science.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I am definitely really proud of the Baby Steps project I’ve been working on since about 2007. The idea is to help parents of young children track developmental progress in their children from birth through age 5 to help detect things like autism or other developmental delays sooner. The idea is that the information will be stored in a centralized database, so we have been working on ideas to use technology to reach parents no matter how they use technology or what their access to it might be. We’ve been using a software application, a website, Twitter, text messaging, and more to try to reach as many parents as we can! It’s been really rewarding to work on a project that can have the potential to help many different families. Also, now that I have my own daughter, I am finding it fun and really useful to use to track her development.
Role models and heroes:
Growing up, I remember really loving to read about Sally Ride, the first female astronaut. It really made me feel like I could do anything I wanted to, and that there was no job that was beyond reach because of my gender. I’m also a big fan of female computer scientists Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper and of Harvey Mudd’s current president, Maria Klawe.
Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love the feeling that I can create anything in the digital world and use those abilities to help others. Computer science is not just a bunch of math like a lot of people think, but it’s actually a creative process that requires a lot of different types of thinking. Also, the work I do in human-computer interaction involves both working with people to find out what they need and then developing prototypes of that technology and making those ideas come to life. This makes it both challenging and exciting.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Computers touch almost every aspect of our lives these days, and thus there are a number of opportunities to apply computer science to almost any thing that interests you, whether it’s healthcare, art, science, music, games, movies, or more. By combining your work with the things that interest you most, you can definitely enjoy it a lot more and feel good about it. Also, stick to it, even if it gets hard. There are a number of fun things you can do once you get really good at computing.
Favorite website or app:I really love my Fitbit, which I’ve been using for almost 3 years now. When you spend a lot of time with computers, it’s really easy to spend a lot of time not moving. My Fitbit keeps me accountable for making sure I get enough activity, and it also is fun to go back and look at the data and compete with friends for the highest number of steps.