During a typical recruiting season, the halls of Sitterson are filled with corporate partners tabling in the lobby and engaging in in-person panel discussions, networking events, or whiteboard parties. Today’s environment has called for a creative spin on this upcoming recruiting season to maintain the quality of the on-campus experience. This semester, with the support of UNC Computer Science’s Corporate Partners Program, the department is planning events and networking opportunities which have been reimagined for an engaging online environment.
Replacing the traditional format of these in-person events, we will be utilizing multiple platforms to provide different opportunities for connection. UNC CS will bring a lineup of events to help students be successful in a virtual recruiting environment. To kick things off, Resume Reboot provides students with an opportunity to have 15-minute individual resume review sessions with top industry recruiters. Throughout the fall, qualifying corporate partners will be highlighted in the Company Days programs, where these organizations will each receive a dedicated day to promote their positions, tech, and what it’s like to work at the company.
Other key events include Tech Panel Discussions, providing students with an opportunity to learn more about the recruiting landscape during the COVID-19 crisis as well as panels that highlight the many options available to graduates in a variety of tech-related fields; the Tech Career Fair, a department-hosted virtual event that will allow students to move to numerous virtual booths of employers just like an in-person career fair event; and a diversity in tech virtual event with networking opportunities for students and partners. We also expect to add virtual tech talks and virtual whiteboard parties, based on partner interest.
The creation of an opt-in LinkedIn Group, “2020-21 UNC CS Career Hub,” will provide students participating in the recruitment process a space to engage with recruiters from top tech companies, as well as gain valuable career development information through timely articles shared from CS Career Development Coordinator Stephanie Johnson, all in an engaging online, easy-to-access format.
This summer, student members of the UNC CS Summer of Code program helped to develop a UNC CS Resume Database, designed to allow for ease of access to student-uploaded profiles and resume information. Access to this database will be provided to corporate partners, allowing students the opportunity to get their information in the hands of top industry recruiters.
Recognizing that students will be spending significant time in video calls, email, chats, or other online platforms, we have narrowed down events to meet the needs of students in a timely fashion. All events and programs will have some sort of asynchronous access, allowing for students across the country and world to access information from industry experts and connect with recruiters in the field as part of the fall recruiting season.
As an incoming student at UNC-Chapel Hill in the summer of 2012, Joe Puccio faced a familiar challenge for college students, organizing and planning for course registration. Registration can take several hours, only to result in courses being full, and creates an overwhelming experience for many students.
Reflecting on his own frustration with the process, Puccio took action. Combining his passion for building things and his interest in programming, he collaborated with co-founder Tara Aida to develop a program that would track course openings and automatically send a text message when a spot in a needed class opened up. Soon, other students were asking how they could gain access to the program.
Puccio saw the value of this service and expanded the project’s capabilities during his time as an undergraduate student at UNC. Now, Coursicle – a mobile app and web service used on college campuses across the country – helps students with all aspects of course registration. Coursicle is used by more than 900 college campuses, including UNC, where 80 percent of students are Coursicle users.
Puccio now leads Coursicle, but he initially had no interest in business or entrepreneurship, and his motivations for studying math and computer science were purely based on his passions and interests. His experiences within UNC Computer Science – from the late nights in Sitterson with his peers to the relationships formed with faculty – provided him with a sense of community. It is this community that he identifies as important to supporting his entrepreneurial ventures and one he still feels strongly about giving back to today.
Puccio credits Kevin Jeffay, Gillian Cell distinguished professor and department chair, with providing mentorship during a critical point for Coursicle, and is thankful that Michael Fern, professor of the practice of entrepreneurship and associate chair for business affairs, supported his efforts by introducing him to UNC Information Technology Services (ITS). Further, he reflects fondly on a critical course taught by Lawrence M. Slifkin Distinguished Professor Michael Reiter, and as a student was energized by the personality of Associate Professor Ketan Mayer-Patel, now serving as director of undergraduate studies. All of these experiences at UNC prepared him well for leading Coursicle today.
As an alumnus, Puccio stays connected to UNC CS not only through the relationships he has formed over time, but also through providing opportunities for current UNC CS students. Puccio hires UNC students as interns and employs current and former students. He has a vested interest in ensuring the department prepares students for internships and careers. Puccio visits often with faculty, valuing their continued mentorship. He has also formed new relationships, meeting with Professor of the Practice Jeff Terrell, founder of the UNC App Lab, who now serves as Coursicle’s Technical Advisor.
While investing time and energy into a startup as an undergraduate took an immense amount of sacrifice, Puccio today is encouraging to other entrepreneurs, reminding them that they are capable and that through perseverance, partnership, and drive, there is success.
Interested in sharing your Carolina story? Want to share a current project? We want to connect with you! To be featured in the alumni profile series, please contact Erin Lane, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Carolina, earning a Liberal Arts degree offers those with a passion in the STEM fields a unique opportunity to supplement and enrich their studies, to consider application and impact, and be inspired by the world around them. For CS major Charlotte Dorn, Spring 2020 provided the unforeseen opportunity to reflect on the ways she can combine her interests outside of tech. These experiences have offered a unique lens and pathway forward, igniting a passion for her studies, a desire to give back to her community, and a reminder of the power of listening to one’s inner voice.
We asked Charlotte to share her journey through this spring and summer, but also to reflect on the experiences that have shaped her CS Carolina story.
What made you decide to attend UNC?
Although Carolina was lacking the specific subject I wanted to study, that I applied to, what it did offer was the college experiences I dreamed of having. Coupled with the Morehead-Cain Scholarship, I foresaw this path to be rich with students vastly different from myself, travel to lands near and far, and a balanced life of fun, business, hard work, and unbound new experiences.
This vision was in stark contrast to the image I had in my head of traditional engineering programs. I wouldn’t have known it at the time, but to my surprise, within my first two years at Carolina, I have received as much, if not more, hands-on engineering practice than my friends who chose accredited engineering programs.
In the future, I want to encourage those that are like me, who might not fit the “traditional” model, to find their place and a special purpose at this school and in the community and world.
Undergraduate research and student-employment offer an opportunity for involvement on campus, but can also serve as an outlet for creativity. How did you get involved?
During my first tour on campus, I abandoned my group when they mentioned theMakerspace labs; I then spent far too long asking questions of the Student Assistant who was working that day. The summer before my first year, I emailed Kyle Glochick, who, with the other brilliant and welcoming staff at BeAM, accepted my unbound enthusiasm and offered me a job.
It wasn’t long after I arrived that I became immersed in the world of design and technology.
A few months into my first year, I was doing maintenance on the BeAM 3D printers, when my supervisor requested that I speak with a new UNC professor, Sridhar Duggirala, who had grand visions of autonomous vehicles. I was enthralled by the prospect of getting to help build a fleet of 1/10th scale autonomously driving race cars – and that’s exactly what I did. I started on the team doing just hardware: soldering boards, laser cutting chassis, and assembling the nuts and bolts. Eventually, I was sitting in on programming meetings, and before I knew it, I was whisked away to a conference in Montreal. Thanks to the hard work of the graduate students I was working with, UNC’s little car named Zoom Zoom which came in first place at the F1/10 autonomous racing challenge.
This spring your plans for attending a study abroad program abruptly shifted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What could have been a disappointment has turned into a great opportunity. In which ways has this moment allowed you to gain clarity?
I would say my brain is hardwired to understand and find joy in engineering and technology. I find myself in flow states, working for hours on end on debugging, soldering, or building. That being said, at the end of the day I often feel unfulfilled, like something is missing. I would attribute this to what felt like a disconnect between my work and my life.
I’ve been learning to listen to intuition when it comes to making decisions and my passion for environmental conservation was something I had never explored academically.
In February, it became clear that my semester plans would be altered, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I began to seek alternative options. Through a website, Workaway.com, I found what appeared to be the perfect landing spot. A small community in Louisa, Virginia advertised a long list of projects, from pedal-powered saws to solar panel racks alongside gardening, trail maintenance, and electric car repair.
I started my stay at Cambia Community as a “Workawayer,” exchanging a few hours of work each day for room and board. As the United States progressively shut-down, my stay at Cambia evolved into a three month internship with the educational organization Rustling Roots.
Before coming to Cambia, I was still uncertain if sustainability was that perfect fit. Here, I’ve discovered a beautiful life that mixes technology and nature-inspired living. Projects all over the community sing songs that are both modern and timeless. We use a rocket-stove, a masterpiece of applied physics, with hand chopped wood from a small self-sustaining forest. We have an electric car, charged on solar panels that sit in the field where we grow tomatoes, sunflowers, and many other useful plants.
As you have combined your passion for technology and sustainability, what have you learned?
One skill I am learning is a way of evaluating the impacts of technology. Devices like temperature sensors and solar panels make people feel more connected to the world around them, not less. And when you are more aware of the way you interact with nature, you’re more likely to make choices that don’t cause harm to your environment.
This internship left me looking at the potential advancements, from startups to small fixes, with a critical eye. Taking the time to evaluate the impact of actions, including the environmental effects and the social implications is the most crucial skill for those with technical ability.
With great power comes great responsibility. A liberal arts education, connections with people of different backgrounds, and life experiences are what have helped me become more aware of the impacts of my ambitions.
All students at UNC have the unique opportunity to embrace the lessons and insights from other fields of study. With their head down, a student can code their way into a high paying job or an app that reaches millions. But only when students explore the world around them and listen through other mediums, whether philosophy, environmental studies, public health, or women and gender studies, can they make their skills meaningful and worthwhile.
When reflecting on your opportunities at Carolina, as well as your hopes for the future, what would you share with your fellow students?
As a female-identifying student in STEM, I am aware of the harsh stereotypes that exist regarding emotional fragility of women in the field. But, I believe that empathy is incredibly valuable as a way to guide tech advances towards good causes. Emotions can serve as fuel for motivation for change – whether that be regarding climate change, poverty, racism, mental illness, or other prevailing issues. With this intention, I am allowing my strong reactions to careless environmental destruction to compel my education in technology.
I am also aware, as a member of an underrepresented group in STEM, that when I accept opportunities, I am normalizing inclusivity, opening people’s eyes to the value of diversity and inclusion, and hopefully making future females feel like less of a token student.
In times as uncertain as they are now, it’s difficult to look towards the future. My hope is that as I leave Carolina, I’ll hold firmly to my values, an awareness of my privilege, and my role in my communities. I hope to have developed into a person suited to live a wholehearted life, with strong relationships and a mission of service to people and the environment.
I foresee myself using a strong technical foundation in STEM to help create beautiful solutions by connecting the ideators with the implementers.
Meet Sweta Karlekar, a computer science major graduating in May. As an undergraduate, she chose to get involved with research within the department. Reflecting on her experience in undergraduate research, we discussed its impact on her time at Carolina, as well as her future career goals.
When did you decide you wanted to study computer science?
All my life I really wanted to be a doctor, because I knew the impact this role has on people’s lives. Junior year of high school, I took my first AI class and it was fascinating. We learned about self-driving cars and the ethics of AI; from that point on, I knew this was what I wanted to do. Through continued exposure to computer science, I realized that as a tool, computer science is morally neutral. Just as a doctor helps people, I could use what I’ve learned in computer science to help improve lives and make an impact on society.
Did you know you wanted to get involved with undergraduate research? How did you start?
I knew that I wanted to try to get involved with research prior to starting at Carolina. The summer before my first semester, I signed up for email listservs that sent information about open research positions across the University. There was an open position for a web developer within the School of Education, focused on creating science visualizations for children. This project aligned with my interests and involvements in high school, I was excited about the possibilities. I applied for the position and was accepted! I enjoyed the impact I was making and appreciated seeing how the collected data proved this research was really helping children, but I wanted to be challenged in different ways. That summer after my first year, I decided to reach out to Prof. Mohit Bansal at UNC CS, he was doing research in NLP, ML, and AI — the research areas I wanted to explore. I had a Skype interview and began work the following fall. Looking back, if I hadn’t taken that job my life would look so much different right now!
What advice would you have for your fellow CS students hoping to get involved in research?
When I first started at Carolina, I didn’t know that as an undergrad I would have the opportunity to plan, conduct, and carry through my own research projects and present at multiple top-ranking international conferences. Starting out, I found that I was met with imposter syndrome, lacking confidence in my knowledge of my chosen field of research and unsure of how I’d make my way in academia. However, research has given me the chance to prove myself in ways I never would have imagined; it allowed for freedom, creativity, and mobility. Through the opportunities granted to me by doing research, I met people that helped me build connections for job and internship opportunities, and ultimately have led me to a career I’m excited to begin after graduation. Looking back, research was the foundation I needed to make my next steps.
Research is an amazing opportunity to tell other people your idea, communicate, work in teams, and develop something that is truly yours. When working in industry, the code you write doesn’t belong to you and it is likely to eventually be rewritten. When conducting research, your paper is yours and it’s always going to be there. My papers are my creation—and it’ll be part of my legacy.