Outstanding computer science student, Ariana Mims, works on inclusivity within the department

Ariana Mims smiling in front of a natural backdropAriana Mims is shaping the future of computer science. Mims is a senior transfer student in the Department of Computer Science who’s work with cybersecurity, and diversity and inclusion here at Colorado State University has left a lasting impact on the department and on the generations of students that will follow her.

“Ariana is the best student on TWO planets,” said Elisa Cundiff, the academic success coordinator for the Colorado State University Department of Computer Science when asked about Ariana Mims. “What sets Ariana apart from your typical, truly exceptional student, is that Ariana constantly refines and lifts her own standards, and while she’s at it – she lifts those around her too. Within a week of arriving to campus, Ariana had started attending clubs, building life-long friendships, and laying the groundwork for one of her goals – getting involved in undergraduate research”.

“Within a year of her joining our department, it became hard to remember the department pre-Ariana.”

Discovering her passion

Mims started college at the University of Houston as a biology major with a focus on becoming a neurosurgeon or a doctor.

“Growing up I was always really good at math and science. I was on the math team in middle and high school, I went to the state championship, I had math nerd trophies everywhere. People always told me if you’re good at math and science you’re either going to be a doctor or an engineer.”

But after struggling in organic chemistry, Mims realized she didn’t really want to be a doctor.

Thinking she only had a few options to apply her interest in STEM to a relevant field, she declared four different engineering majors over the next few years.

Eventually, after years of popping in between majors, Mims tried computer engineering and had her first introduction to programming.

“That is what made me fall in love with computer science. I want to say … day two of learning C++ is when I decided to switch my major.”

Mims wishes that someone had introduced her to programming earlier. It was a perfect marriage between STEM and creative problem solving, and she immediately set her mind to excelling in this new field.

Finding CSU

When Mims was just discovering computer science she was already a junior in college, and her little sister had just graduated high school. Mims had been looking for chances to leave Texas and decided to follow her sister to Colorado.

She had initially planned to go to University of Colorado, Boulder, but set foot on CSU’s campus in Fort Collins and instantly changed her mind.

“I was like ‘Oh wow, this is gorgeous!’ It’s so open, the tour was nice, everybody was super kind. Everything about Fort Collins is amazing,” she said. “Honestly, I think coming here was the best decision that I’ve made. I’ve never had a bad academic experience here at CSU.”

Two weeks after arriving at CSU, Mims landed an internship with Francisco Ortega researching artificial intelligence. When she first arrived at CSU, Mims got involved with the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women, which is focused on creating “a community where you fit in, where you can talk about anything, where you can find likeminded people,” she said.

In the next few years she would be elected as the head of mentorship for the club.

In her first year in the department Mims attended a virtual reality hackathon and, with a team, managed to win first place for their virtual reality concussion test.

“It was my first big accomplishment in computer science that made me think ‘oh my god I can actually do this’”

She attended the Grace Hopper conference, an annual celebration of women in tech and a chance to network and land high profile internships. Mims arrived with eight interviews set up for her first day.

“I am super competitive, probably to a fault,” she said with a laugh. She landed several internships, but chose to pursue her passion in cybersecurity and work for All State this summer.

Mims is a big advocate for the computer science department, and wants to share tips with incoming and current students in any way she can. She recently took over the College of Natural Sciences Instagram to do just that:

“Our department is really cool because we have all these people who did work in the industry for 30 plus years and then decided to come teach, so they have background knowledge on how to get hired.”

She makes it a point to ask industry related questions and run her resume past as many people in the department as possible.

Now a “BRAID: Building, Recruiting, and Inclusion for Diversity” affiliate department, computer science at CSU is working bring in more women, minorities and people of color.

“We got a really big grant to give us not only that title but also the financial backing to take active steps to make our department as inclusive as possible, to make sure that we’re recruiting in all the right avenues to get as many people as possible into computer science and the world of tech,” she said.

 Helping others discover their passions

One of Mims’ biggest focuses in her academic career has been on diversity and inclusion, and increasing representation in the STEM fields.

A group of women in matching CSU shirts.“Ariana volunteers for all of our outreach efforts,” said Cundiff. “The time commitment is enormous.”

Mims has led the Girls Who Code team, teaching middle and high school girls how to code.

She is particularly passionate about this group because “I really wished I had had something like that when I was younger, that somebody could have introduced me to this field a little earlier and I could’ve gotten more of a head start and not stumbled around so much to find my path.”

She has also volunteered for the computer science early start summer program, the high school computer science outreach day, and has been heavily involved in the department’s mentorship program.

“Ariana must somehow have the ability to freeze time, because it is unfathomable to keep up with her ability to excel in her own coursework and research while also supporting and developing the next generation of women in computer science,” said Cundiff.

“I want to make sure that everyone feels really comfortable and welcome no matter what their background is, making sure they know that this is a place that they can thrive and do well no matter what … I want to make sure that when people come and see our CS department that they see a diverse group of people and that they feel like there’s somebody there that they can relate to, and that way you can make that emotional connection and decide to come here or pursue computer science.”

There is no doubt that Mims is an exceptional student and person. Her curiosity, focus and drive has allowed her to thrive in the computer science department and has allowed her to pave the way for others to thrive as well. Mims is already shaping science, and is poised to do bigger and better things in the future.

“She will be a mover and a shaker,” said Joe Gersch, an assistant professor in the department. “Her curiosity drives her to explore new subjects. Curious people invent the future.”

About Rams Shape Science: Meet some of the extraordinary students, faculty, and staff in the College of Natural Sciences who are shaping the future of science and our society.