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Software Engineering Student Spotlight: Grace & Katie

Meet software engineering students Grace and Katie! Grace is studying electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and Katie is studying software engineering at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. Read about their undergrad journeys and what they hope to do with their futures!
Software Engineering Student Spotlight: Grace & Katie


Cornell University | Ithaca, New York

Major: Electrical & Computer Engineer | Minor: Computer Science

software engineering student Grace

What made you decide to go into Software Engineering?

In high school, I made my first toy car using some wires, sensors, and other components. I was amazed to see it do what I wanted it to do: not fall off the edge of the table.

Before I started adding parts and putting in batteries, this car was a piece of plastic that didn’t move.  But now, after adding electrical parts, the car can drive around where I want it to.

This idea of creating and overcoming challenges is what inspired me to pursue STEM.

What do you love most about Cornell University and its engineering program?

What I love the most about my school and our Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) program is that my classmates are so encouraging and willing to help, whether it is working on a very hard homework assignment or trying to finish a large project.  I have been able to make the best of friends because I know I can rely on them and have had loads of fun working with them.

Additionally, I enjoy talking to my professors. I like hearing about why they are in ECE and about their other interests that overlap with my own. Everyone reminds me that even when it gets tough, you can do it, since our motto is that “ECEs can do everything!”

Can you describe a day in your life as a student studying Electrical and Computer Engineering?

My Master’s in Engineering project is very interesting. I am able to take my interests in art and pair them with my passion for engineering.

Using weaving techniques with pneumatic actuators (tubes that grow like a balloon as compressed air is added), I am part of a project where we can make a surface change shape. This can be applied to safer eating environments for COVID times.

Another exciting project I’ve been working on for a class is partnering with the local medical center near my college to create a system that can monitor the health of patients. This is really helpful for patients who live in an area where there is very limited or no Wi-Fi.

What are some really cool things that software engineers work on?

The list is endless! Here are some examples:

  • Self-driving cars
  • Robots that help doctors perform surgeries
  • Smartphones and computers that are even faster and have better cameras
  • Providing electricity to people
  • Improving security so no one steals your personal information when you buy something online

Do you have one piece of advice for our readers who may be interested in pursuing a career in software engineering?

My advice is to never give up and to continue to work hard.  You will grow into someone who is resilient and overcome even tougher challenges!


The California Polytechnic State University | San Luis Obispo, California

Major: Software Engineering

software engineering student Katie

What made you decide to go into software engineering?

I went to a Girls-Teaching-Girls-to-Code camp when I was a freshman in high school and found out that I really loved coding!! We learned to code in a made-up language called Carol. The code would tell a dog where to go.

We were given a bunch of different tasks, like jumping over cones, or spinning in circles. I had so much fun coding that I knew that I wanted it to be my job when I grew up.

I always really enjoyed art, math, and science when I was growing up, so I knew I wanted to do something creative but within the STEM field. Both my parents are computer scientists, so I had a lot of exposure from a young age. I had always known software engineering could be a possibility for me!

What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?

One of the amazing things about software engineering is that there is a coding project for any niche interest you might have.

If you love art, you can program video games and animated movies. If you love psychology, you can design websites and make sure it is really user friendly! If you are interested in physics, you could work on satellites or you could help write software that designs structurally sound buildings!

I personally find autonomous vehicles and cyber security projects some of the most interesting to work on, but there really is something for everyone!

Tell us about a time you failed. How did you overcome that?

In my sophomore year of college, I failed Systems Programming. At the time I had a lot of extra activities. I was extremely involved in my college’s SWE section. I was in a dance club on campus. I also attended two multiple-day long conferences for women in engineering. I tried to do all of this while taking an extremely difficult course load. I ended up on academic probation at the end of the quarter. I felt completely crushed at the time.

I have learned and grown so much from that experience. Before that moment, I had always said yes to everything. I always said yes to volunteering at another event that needed more volunteers. I agreed to perform in every dance at the showcase. I jumped at every professional opportunity. I even had a hard time saying no to spending quality time with friends when I needed to.

I learned that I was completely over-extending myself. I was not leaving enough time to study and learn. I was having so much fun with all of the extra things that I wasn’t fully focused on what I went to school to do. From this experience I learned how to say “no” and how to prioritize studying more. I also developed better time management skills.

It’s okay to do the fun things you love outside of your studies. It’s important for your mental health. But it is also important to put the things that matter to you in order, so you don’t lose sight of your goals.

How can cultural diversity benefit software engineering?

I believe cultural diversity is extremely important in all engineering fields, including software engineering!

Everyone comes from a different walk of life. No two people have the same exact experience. Because we all have different experiences, we all have different ways of thinking. We also have different skills.

Having more diversity in engineering will allow us to better come up with more well-rounded and inclusive solutions to problems! One example of why this is so important is new facial recognition technology that is being developed. Most of the engineers are white men, and the software was tested on those engineers. Because of this, results will be more accurate on the people who look like the testing subjects than on others. For instance, if the engineers are mostly white men, the software will be more accurate in identifying them than it would be on Black women. This could be extremely dangerous. If this technology was only tested on one group of people, it can make mistakes in other underrepresented groups. Technology being used to identify criminals, for example, can cause problems. The software could incorrectly identify an innocent citizen.

Having more diverse groups designing this sort of technology will be better for the people it will affect.

What advice can you give to young girls who are interested in going to college to study software engineering?

I would really recommend trying as many things as possible!

Cal Poly is a hard school to get into. The university application system doesn’t have written essays. Test scores, grades, and extracurriculars are all really important!

If you are interested in coding, I would highly recommend joining or starting a club or team with an organization such as Girls Who Code, Cyber Patriots, VEX Robotics, or FIRST Robotics! I was in all of these clubs in high school. I loved being able to experience so many different sides of programming!

I also want to tell everybody that coding is for everyone. Try not to be afraid if it seems like people around you know more than you! I definitely felt this way when I began learning how to code. Once I got the hang of it, I really started to enjoy it. I also learned that while some people may seem like they know more than you do, that does not mean that they actually do. Many of them are just as nervous as you are and are pretending to be the smartest person in the room.

As long as you are passionate and willing to learn, you will do an amazing job!!

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