Comp Sci Major Awarded Full Scholarship to the University of Washington

Computer Science major Yvonne Chen will pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Washington.

In the fall, senior Yvonne Chen will attend the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, where she’ll pursue a Ph.D. in computer science. She was offered full funding, including a tuition waiver and living stipend from UW, which has one of the top computer science departments in the nation.

Chen will on focus on human-computer interaction, a field that seeks to both understand and improve the way people use computer technology.

UW is a a good fit for her in that it's a top school and she’s a top student. At NJIT, she maintains a 4.0 GPA while also doing research, working internships, managing the student newspaper, studying languages and literature, singing in a university choir and playing club sports.   

As a researcher, Chen especially excelled. Her first research project was within the Department of Computer Science. Working under the direction of Professor James Calvin, she wrote code to analyze algorithms for global optimization problems. The research resulted in a published journal article.  Next, she worked with Professor James Geller to create a game for finding errors in a database of medical terms.

And after her junior year, she was selected for a coveted summer research program at Texas A&M.  She spent 10 weeks there, designing sketching tools to promote what is called ideation, or the generation of ideas. She also interned at New York City’s Standard and Poor’s, where she analyzed and suggested changes for server architecture.

Chen, who came from Singapore to attend the Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT, is excited about moving to Seattle. In this interview, she talks about what she’s looking forward to and what she has accomplished at NJIT.

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Why did you leave Singapore to attend NJIT?

I received a generous scholarship from the Honors College. I also liked that the campus was close to NYC. I went to Singapore American School in Singapore and I am a U.S. citizen, so it was a fairly easy transition. 

Are your parents in Singapore?

Yes, and I travel back to see them when I can.  My father is a college professor in educational technology.  My mother is a homemaker. It’s interesting to me that the main professor I’ll work with at UW focuses on technology with an educational emphasis, whereas my dad focuses on how to teach but uses technology to enhance instruction.  

How did you get interested in computer science?

Growing up, we always had a computer in the house. My parents encouraged my brother and me to tinker with computers (I should say that my brother, Kevin, is a sophomore in the Honors College majoring in digital design).  My father was into computers, so I guess I got it mainly from him. Later I took a deeper interest in programming, video games and so on.  My parents and teachers also encouraged me. I was lucky enough never to have someone tell me girls are not supposed to like computers and computing. 

You have interests beyond computer science, right?

I have strengths in the STEM fields, but I would say my skills are equally strong in other areas.  I studied Russian, for example, for a year at Rutgers, and I also studied Russian literature. I was part of the Rutgers Choir, and I read for pleasure and love music.  I also played intra-mural badminton at NJIT.

What were some highlights of NJIT for you?

Working for the Vector – for two years I was Managing Editor. That helped me to develop skills outside of academics and it was the most important experience I’ve had at NJIT.  The skills involved in journalism are different from computer science and I like to have a balance. NJIT is a small campus, which I liked. I was shy when I first got here. I was socially unsure but being in a small environment helped me open up. With small classes, I got attention from professors and interacted with students in small settings. I would have been lost at a large university. 

Did you enjoy the Honors College?

The college is filled with motivated, bright students, and it’s a great way to connect with driven peers. I appreciate the group of students I interact with. And the Honors College is even a smaller environment within NJIT, and as said I prefer small close environments.

Are you looking forward to grad school?

Seattle is amazing and the campus is beautiful.  UW has really amazing professors who are leaders in their fields. I’ve already spoken to some of them.  The grad students there also seem passionate about their work, but they do also have a good time; they walk and bike and get outdoors.   It’s a nice balance of life in Seattle and I can’t wait to get an apartment there and start grad school. 

By Robert Florida