RACHEL YE

Computer Science student at the University of Washington



How did you first become interested in STEM?

In my freshman year of high school I joined the programming subgroup of Robotics club because I thought this would be a fun introduction to coding. I was honestly a bit overwhelmed because everyone was so competitive that beginners would never get the help they needed to actually learn. I eventually met this girl who helped me through the club and told me about AP Computer Science, Cisco Networking Academy, NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) and all these computer science opportunities. Because of her, I took AP computer science and really enjoyed the class. Even though it was challenging, I just found it really satisfying when I could see my code work and felt encouraged to pursue the field.



What do you think is most important in empowering girls to pursue computer science?

I noticed that most girls tend to stay in computer science when they form a community so in my senior year, my friend and I revived Girls Who Code club. For the girls who were invested in the club, they really did feel inspired to go on and take more classes in computer science. We were able to start a new attitude for girls to try out this field instead of backing out or thinking only boys can succeed in computer science. Overall, I feel like having mentorship and surrounding yourself with supportive women can make a big impact, especially in high school.

Have you experienced gender bias in STEM clubs or classes?

Honestly, the most bias I’ve experienced was in high school, especially in Cisco Networking class. Basically, all the girls would partner up for projects and the guys would do their own thing. There was no structure from the teachers so the environment really depended on the students. When my partner and I asked for help, the guys would judge us and assume that we were less qualified than them. Even when we confronted them about how uncomfortable we were, they just made fun of us. In hindsight, I realize I never should have felt embarrassed because that’s not how the real world works; you’re supposed to ask questions, work together and uplift your peers, and call out gender and racial bias when it happens. Computer science needs representation from people of all diverse backgrounds in order to create products that are accessible and inclusive for everyone. It’s so much better at UW though compared to high school. The Allen School feels like a solid community, and our student orgs frequently host diversity discussions for students and faculty to discuss issues like gender bias and more.

Any tips for students wanting to get direct admission to UW Computer Science?

  1. Show your passion. For me, that was empowering women and youth to pursue computer science. In my application I talked about Girls Who Code and organizing workshops through Rocketry club for elementary and middle school kids. I also interned for Microsoft and took Cisco, AP Computer Science, and other activities that showed that I was serious about this major. Really, UW is just looking for an indication that you will do well in the major through academics or extracurricular activities.
  2. Your personal statement should convey who you are as a person - your personality, character, what you care about - and not what you have done. Even if you have really interesting experiences, you have to show how you have grown from it.

What are you currently working on - classes, research, internships?

Research: I’m working on an undergraduate research project at the ICTD (Information Communication Technology for Development) lab to empower rural communities to solve 4G network problems on their own. Over the summer, my team and I went to a village in Mexico to survey the community on how they use the internet, asking questions like “if you were to organize a network, what would you prioritize?” Based on their feedback, we are building a full-stack web app that helps the network administrators analyze network trends.

Other positions:
  1. Allen School Ambassador: giving tours to incoming CS freshmen, teaching K-12 coding workshops, working with underprivileged high school students in Seattle
  2. ASUW (Associated Students of the University of Washington): working with the student government to help 12 freshmen transition to the university
  3. ACMW (Association for Computing Machinery for Women): organizing networking events and others focused on diversity and inclusion
  4. Engineering internship with Nordstrom in the summer (cancelled due to COVID-19)