Q: Did you always love computers, Ally, or did you develop this interest after you came to Wake Forest?
A: I’ve always been interested in technology, but my experiences at Wake Forest helped to solidify this. Having the opportunity to learn more about computer science at Wake has definitely given me a greater appreciation for the technology we use every day.
Q: What was your most interesting class at Wake Forest?
A: My most interesting class was Artificial Intelligence. It was the first computer science course that I took that really made me realize I was in the right field.
Q: Please share a bit about your opportunities for research.
A: Wake Forest has been amazing in providing me with opportunities. The Computer Science department faculty go out of their way to mentor younger students and turn more experienced students into leaders. Research opportunities are widely available. Based on what I’ve heard, this is unique to Wake Forest and is definitely something that everyone should be taking advantage of.
For example, being part of a research group almost my whole time at Wake has allowed me to develop the ability to work collaboratively with a variety of different types of people. Also, I participated in the Wake Forest Research Fellows program, which allowed me to work with a mentor, professor Paúl Pauca, on research for two summers. This experience taught me how to conduct and present scholarly research – skills that are imperative for graduate school.
Q: You worked on research designed to help people with speech impediments and mobility issues. What did this experience teach you?
A: My research with professor Pauca has been incredibly rewarding. Working with people with disabilities and creating technology that is truly life changing has put all of my work in college into perspective. It’s easy to sit in class and think that theoretical concepts and abstract problems are all that matter, but, to me, it’s imperative that my future work have real-life applications and contribute something positive to society. I don’t think I would have learned this lesson in college had it not been for my research experiences.
Q: How did you secure a summer internship at Harvard in data privacy?
A: Obtaining a research internship isn’t an easy process. It takes a lot of planning and prior experience. I started participating in computer science research during my first year in college and worked on research projects for two summers to strengthen future applications. The application process also requires recommendations from faculty who know your potential to conduct research outside of class, so it’s important to start building relationships with professors early. My internship validated my desire to pursue a graduate degree in computer science and also helped me find an aspect of computer science that I’m passionate about.
Q: Any advice for girls and young women interested in STEM studies?
A: I don’t think it has to be challenging to be a woman in a STEM field. In my experience, it seems like more women are choosing to go into computer science every year, which is definitely a cool thing to see. As a STEM mentor, I interacted with younger students interested in computer science and hopefully inspired them to pursue the field.
Being a woman isn’t a disadvantage. It’s actually an advantage. Having a different perspective can allow you to solve problems differently, and many people are interested in increasing diversity in STEM fields, which creates more opportunities for women.
Q: Where do you see technology going in the next 5 years?
A: I think the biggest change we’ll see in terms of computers in the next 5 years is their ability to predict things about us. This is already being done, as many people know, but will continue to become more personal. I want to be involved in this endeavor specifically by making sure that any data collected to learn about a person stays private and that none of these predictions will compromise the safety or violate the rights of any users.
Q: What is your best advice for freshmen?
A: First-year students are often scared to jump in and start doing important things early on in college. For this reason, I think the following quote by Steve Jobs is the best thing I could tell a freshmen coming into Wake Forest: “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”