The future of computer science
Meet four female students leading the future of the field
by Lisa Streeb Case
published Nov. 12, 2019
From left to right: Susanna Kyler, Swetha Varadarajan, Cassidy Skorczewski, and Hajar Homayouni.
The Colorado State University Department of Computer Science hit a major milestone this year: The incoming class includes the largest percentage of female students in the department’s history. It’s a welcome sign of growth amidst ongoing initiatives at CSU for recruiting and retaining more women to a traditionally male-dominated field.
CSU recently became an affiliate school with BRAID, which stands for Building, Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity, a national program that focuses on making computer science programs more accessible to women and other underrepresented groups with data-driven strategies.
Here are four students studying computer science at CSU who are leading the future of the field.
“The very thought that I could make a small chip do whatever I programmed thrilled me a lot.”
For Swetha Varadarajan, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in computer science, finding her passion for the field was a winding road. She originally set out to become a medical doctor but changed her mind and decided to pursue a degree in engineering. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she pursued her master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. “I was fascinated with the parallel programming and optimization aspect of computer science, and thus, I switched to computer science for my Ph.D.,” she said.
Now, well into her doctoral research, Varadarajan is interested in mapping applications – understanding the relationships between applications and underlying infrastructures. Her dissertation focuses on using genetic algorithms inspired by the process of natural selection to optimize complex mathematic challenges. One such challenge is the Traveling Salesman Problem, which focuses on finding the optimum route for a “salesman” to travel between predetermined points or “cities.”
“Computer science allows me to spend my days solving puzzles and creating really amazing things.”
Susanna Kyler, a senior, didn’t always know she wanted to pursue computer science as a major, but a chance encounter with a recent graduate intrigued her. “He told me that computer science would allow me to both create things and solve interesting problems,” said Kyler, who started her undergraduate education in art. After taking her first class in the discipline, Kyler fell in love with the work.
Kyler transferred to CSU from another school. “CSU’s established and very well-respected program appealed to me. I loved my old school, but CSU had the connections and resources that I knew would put me on track for success,” she said.
Now, with graduation on the horizon, Kyler is excited to begin her career in the field of computer science and will be working at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. In the future, her long-term goal is to integrate computer science with a field that is not using it effectively. “From improvements in virtual reality all the way to developments in how we handle data, there are many disciplines that will be revolutionized by these tools and I want to help drive this change,” she said.
“I am very optimistic that computer science will solve many of the long-standing challenges that human beings have faced over the ages.”
Hajar Homayouni is fascinated by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Homayouni, who is in her last year as a Ph.D. student, sees a lot of potential for artificial intelligence to improve society. “I am very hopeful that in the near future, computer science in general and machine learning specifically will be incorporated into new domains, such as autonomous driving, virtual reality, and smart devices that help people overcome physical and cognitive challenges,” she said.
Homayouni came to the Department of Computer Science at CSU because it is highly ranked and offered opportunities that matched her interests. She spared no time in adding to the high ranking of the department by winning the Western Association of Graduate Schools (WAGS)/ProQuest Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award for her paper, “An Approach for Testing the Extract-Transform-Load Process in Data Warehouse Systems.”
After graduating with her Ph.D., Homayouni is interested in continuing the work she started here. “I will likely want to obtain a position in academia and pursue a career of teaching and research,” she said.
“The diversity in programming draws me to computer science because there are so many ways to attack a problem.”
Cassidy Skorczewski, a senior graduating in December, is looking forward to finding a career that combines her two passions. “I want to maintain a career path that incorporates the two things I am passionate about: math and computer science, to ultimately work toward a leadership position,” said Skorczewski. “I like the challenge of programming math because the tiniest of errors can ruin your entire program; therefore a programmer must have high problem-solving skills and patience.”
Skorczewski’s recent classes at CSU have focused on big data and distributed systems. With the increase in connected devices there has been a large increase in data sets, she said. “The amount of collected data has increased exponentially since devices have become more connected, and I want to leverage my background in computer science and math to analyze and draw results from these large datasets,” she added.
Skorczewski’s interest in computer science started in her high school engineering class. She studied many different forms of engineering, including building and programming robots. “I was so amazed that I could type a few lines on a computer, hit go, and my robot would do something,” she said. That interest, combined with her love of outdoor activities, led Skorczewski, who grew up in South Dakota, to CSU. “I wanted to go somewhere near the mountains where I could still enjoy hiking, camping, and snowboarding on the weekends.”