Packet Disarray

Despatches from longb4


In early 2012, between when I applied for colleges and when I accepted one of them, I was invited to apply for a scholarship and mentoring program at WWU for women in computer science and math. Now, having been part of that program for a couple years and already fairly close to graduating, I’m overwhelmingly thankful for the opportunities it’s given me.

These were my answers to the questions I was asked when I applied.

Why do you want to major in computer science or math?

I have had a lifelong affinity for computers and math, as well as for helping people, so it should come as no surprise to you that I’ve always been the go-to girl for computer and math help. As early as elementary school, teachers asked for my assistance with finicky computers rather than waiting for the district tech support, and they rarely bothered making answer keys for math homework since they knew they could use my paper instead. This naturally made me quite popular among my classmates as well, though I always did my best to help them learn the concepts, not just give them answers. These talents have continued throughout my life in school, though I hadn’t until recently considered math or computers as a career. My perspective has changed, however, as the constant news about security breaches and other attacks on computer systems has grown to a fever pitch over the last year. Previously, I wanted to be a linguist or musician; my computer skills were more of a hobby than a professional interest. Being self-aggrandizing makes me feel sick to my stomach, but I recognize that for most people — even most computer people — information security is not a strong or enjoyable subject like it is for me! I wholeheartedly feel that it is my duty to work at defending our nation against computer attackers, whether for national security or the economy, because of my unusual combination of aptitude and interest in the field. Pursuing a computer science major is an essential step toward that goal.

What do you think makes you a successful student?

I am a successful student because I have high standards for myself and I’m not afraid of hard work. Some might say that I’m motivated by a fear of failure, and perhaps that’s true — but I don’t care whether it is or isn’t. Where others experience fear, I see an opportunity to get the gears of my mind whirring and a powerful incentive to find a correct (or acceptable) solution. So while many people experience stage fright before a musical performance or test anxiety before a big exam, my strategy is to ignore any sense of fear I do notice creeping up on me, since I see it crippling others so often, and throw all I can at the situation. If I did feel any fear in the first place, it flees in terror of my indomitable force when I’m fully prepared!

My eagerness at tackling daunting challenges and my sheer joy when I succeed motivate me to expect nothing less of myself than my best effort. I know that, within reason, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, and I refuse to let anyone or anything dissuade me. That being said, my close familiarity with my track record means that I judge myself far more harshly than anyone else does (except maybe religious fundamentalists — but that’s another story). However, since I am my own toughest critic, I have the confidence to pursue my goals without tiptoeing around or cowering from others’ disapproval. I owe my success to my self-assurance and my work ethic.

Beyond your academic record, tell us more about you.

There are a great many uncommon activities I take pleasure in, from belting out a sax cadenza in front of several hundred people, to gleefully persuading my car to coast at the speed limit for half a mile, to programming miniature LED raves. However, there isn’t much short of firewalls or differentiation that gratifies me more than crocheting and cooking. Just the other day, I finally completed crocheting a large afghan, using over 1.6 miles of yarn (costing about $25) in total. It was truly an exercise in perseverance, but it paid off! I remember when I first started the project last July and I took it camping to pass the time; it seemed so overwhelming. I knew I could get away with just stopping then and leaving it as a scarf with an odd pattern, but I’m so glad now that I pushed onward and finished. It’s a great companion on cold evenings, and my cats seem to agree!

Another activity I enjoy far more than I should be allowed to is cooking. It seems that many people view cooking as a chore to be avoided whenever possible, but I feel that food nourishes the soul as well as the body. So while I know that frying some rice or putting together a soup will take half an hour longer than pouring a pile of Cheez-Its, I also feel that creating a healthy meal out of real food is worth it for the satisfaction and fulfillment. Coaxing a pizza to emerge from flour, tomatoes, and cheese, for example, is far more rewarding than just ordering one anyway! Between crocheting and cooking, I not only save bucketloads of money versus buying finished products, but in exercising my creativity, I also mold myself into more of a well-rounded person.