The School of Computer Science has named current seniors Tanvi Bajpai and Serena Wang the recipients of its 2018 Mark Stehlik SCS Alumni Undergraduate Impact Scholarship. The award, now in its fourth year, recognizes undergraduate students for their commitment and dedication both in and beyond the classroom. Bajpai and Wang have made noteworthy contributions both to SCS and the computer science field in general. And they both plan to continue doing so after graduation.
Bajpai, who hails from West Windsor, NJ, said that she felt out of place in high school, surrounded by students who were less passionate about learning and more preoccupied with padding their resumes. She cultivated her interest in computer science by participating in programming competitions at the University of Pennsylvania, and attended a summer program at Princeton called the Program in Algorithmic and Combinatorial Thinking (PACT). Her exposure to discrete math and algorithm design fueled a desire to pursue computer science at CMU, where she was pleased to finally be surrounded with peers, faculty and mentors who were all just as passionate about the field as she was.
"I didn't want to get my hopes up about anything when I arrived at CMU," Bajpai said. "I just wanted to learn as much as I could."
During her time at CMU, Bajpai has performed research with Ramamoorthi Ravi, the Andris A. Zoltners Professor of Business and Rohet Tolani Distinguished Professor in SCS and the Tepper School of Business. In the summer of 2017, she interned at Microsoft, and this past summer she traveled to the University of Maryland to work on research with Samir Khuller, the Distinguished Scholar Teacher and Professor of Computer Science. Despite her many accomplishments, Bajpai believes that her biggest achievement at CMU was being a teaching assistant for a series of computer science and discrete math classes including 15-451: Algorithms, 15-151: Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science, and 21-128: Mathematical Concepts and Proofs.
"My outreach has been primarily toward encouraging diversity in the undergraduate computer science program, because although we have a 50/50 male to female ratio, we still need to push diversity at the teaching assistant and research level," Bajpai said. "I've been very passionate about addressing the imposter phenomenon that goes on at CMU, and I've planned events with Women @ SCS to address both of these topics."
Wang, a Bay Area native, wasn't interested in computer science until her junior year of high school, even though she grew up in Silicon Valley. After a field trip to visit Google and Facebook's offices, and joining the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Facebook group, she was inspired by all of the initiatives proposed by young women.
"It made me realize that just like any field, computer science had many diverse topics," Wang said. "There were many other young women just like me who were pursuing the field."
Wang has been a teaching assistant every semester since fall of her sophomore year, because of the positive impact her own teaching assistants had on her education at CMU. Beyond that, she has been involved with ScottyLabs and Women @ SCS since her freshman year, holding executive positions in ScottyLabs including both director of finance and director. She has also performed research on provable security and privacy with SCS Assistant Professor Jean Yang, and developed a passion for entrepreneurship while participating in the Kleiner Perkins Engineering Fellows Program.
Wang believes the most incredible opportunity she's had at CMU was organizing TartanHacks, a CMU-wide hackathon.
"Organizing a large event like TartanHacks takes a lot of preparation and teamwork," Wang said. "But in the end, the rest of the ScottyLabs executive board members and I felt so accomplished and satisfied when we finished successfully hosting the event."
With their senior years nearly half completed, both students are focusing on their post-graduation goals. Bajpai hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical computer science and Wang will join an enterprise data infrastructure startup called Akita. Both students are incredibly grateful for the resources and opportunities that were theirs for the taking in the School of Computer Science.
"Receiving the Stehlik Scholarship has made me look back at what I've accomplished during my time at CMU, and as a freshman, I never would have expected to be able to do everything I've achieved," said Wang. Bajpai added, "I don't think I'd be where I am today had I not had the support from some of my professors and advisors here, and I will always be grateful for that."