I was born deaf, but fortunately received education in a public school district that had a program to accommodate deaf students. In my classes I had sign language interpreters and note-taking services. These accommodations played a major part in my academic success in high school, helping me graduate with highest honors. After high school, I enrolled at Williams College, a small liberal arts college in rural Massachusetts.
I have used summer time well during my journey in STEM. During high school, I attended the AccessComputing Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing at the University of Washington. This was a fully-funded, nine-week residential program for deaf and hard of hearing students chosen from a nationwide pool. While at the Summer Academy, I was able to visit companies like Google and Microsoft and attend research presentations given by computer science graduate students.
I was intrigued by the research presentations and wanted to get involved in my own research projects. I realized that summer was a great time to engage in research. I’ve participated in two Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs. These programs, funded by the National Science Foundation, hire students each summer to work on a research project at a college or university. One summer, I worked at the Bard College REU on an applied machine learning project.
The following summer, I was at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s REU, performing combinatorics research. These REUs were my first experiences in a real job situation, so I set up accommodations for myself. At Bard College, they hired sign language interpreters who came to campus when students or faculty gave research presentations. Unfortunately, interpreting a technical talk is a very difficult task because of the technical jargon and the need for specificity. So, while I was at Greensboro, I decided to rely entirely on a frequency modulation (FM) system, which amplifies the instructor into a speaker just for me to hear.
I am now a first-year computer science PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. I am working with Professor John Canny on machine learning and human-computer interaction research. I expect to stay at Berkeley for at least six years to form a strong research record before going out on the job market. My career goals are to become either a professor or a research scientist.
In retrospect, I am surprised at my life’s journey so far, as I had long viewed myself as a future doctor or lawyer. It was not until after I had attended AccessComputing’s Summer Academy that I seriously considered a career in computer science. Every now and then, I think about how unbelievable it is that I got to where I am today. My journey into the world of computer science would not have been possible without all the help and support I’ve received in my years of school. My support network includes all my interpreters, my note-takers, deaf teachers and assistants, AccessComputing, and of course, my parents. From elementary, middle, and high school at Guilderland, to four years at Williams, and now at Berkeley, they have remained my strongest supporters.