2018 CAS Woman of the Year: Erica Jurado, '18

Erica Jurado is our 2018 Woman of the Year from the College of Arts and Sciences. While reading Erica’s nomination, we were extremely impressed by her academic, professional, and extracurricular accomplishments and her dedication to the fields of math, economics, and computer science. Erica’s involvements on campus prove that she is a trailblazer in her field while helping others to do the same, which is why we are honored to be able to name her one our of Women of the Year.

Her Campus American University: Where did you grow up and what brought you to AU?

Erica Jurado: I grew up outside of Philly, about 40 minutes out in the suburbs in a pretty quiet area. One of the things I wanted when I was picking out a college was to venture out a little further outside of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia area. Initially I was coming in as an economics major, but was concerned about my job prospects. I decided to pursue mathematics and economics to combine my interests and increase opportunities. American had good program for that. I also visited AU and ended up really liking it. I really appreciated how passionate and enthusiastic everyone here was.

 

HCAU: What made you decide to pursue a dual degree in Computer Science and Math/Econ? Did you know that was what you wanted to do as a freshman, or did you change your major?

EJ:If you went back to high school me and told me I’d be majoring in math, econ, and computer science, I would have laughed at all three. I definitely did not see myself  doing anything like that. Senior year I decided I liked econ because I took an AP Econ class and thought it seemed like a good balance of my interests in the social sciences and also the hard math and sciences. I ended up getting into computer science pretty randomly. In terms of the Math/Econ degree requirements, you’re required to take a computer science course. So going in, I thought this was something that was going to be really hard for me and I’d just do my best to get through it. I ended up liking it. What ultimately convinced me was my experience that following summer, I did a research project with that professor who taught that course. We all worked together to make a game for the Smithsonian American Art museum. I thought that was the coolest thing, that even with just a semester of programming I could build something fun and functional. So I decided that computer science was definitely the way I wanted to go.

HCAU: As we saw in your nomination, you’re very active and involved on campus! Can you tell us a little bit about everything that you’re involved with, including the Association for Computing Machinery, Upsilon Pi Epsilon, and working as a Step Up leader?

EJ: I primarily focused on STEP Up my first two years of college. I was really interested in mental health and sexual assault advocacy and I saw STEP Up as a way of both supporting students going through those sorts of difficulties and giving back to our campus.

For ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) and UPE (Upsilon Pi Epsilon), I got involved with them a little bit later. ACM, I kind of stumbled in as the graphic designer because they couldn’t find anyone and I just happened to be there, and I ended up enjoying it. I was VP the next year and now I am President, so I’ve definitely been very invested in it. It has been really cool to be part of that community and meet everyone- one of the reasons I felt empowered to pursue computer science was because because there is a great community and support system there.

UPE is the computer science honor society on campus. We’re quite small, but obviously the intersection of service and computer science is something I’m very passionate about and I want to see up grow in future years.

 

HCAU: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience at PEW research center and what you work on as an intern?

EJ: I worked there last summer as an Intern Web Developer, so in terms of the web development, I worked on some of the things you see on the Center’s front-end website, such as fun interactives. Interactives are the charts and graphs that you can actually click on and interact with to understand the data a little bit better. I also work on some smaller projects. In the fall I was brought on, no longer as an intern but as an actual employee which has been really exciting. It’s very rewarding seeing my name on something published on the Center’s website, which is an organization I’ve always admired. The developers are great, and I also get to do the fun small projects that no one has much time for, and I enjoy those as well.

 

HCAU: We saw that you were recently accepted into a computer science PhD program at UC Davis this fall. Congratulations! What drew you to this program and inspired you to go to graduate school?

EJ: Since I’ve gotten involved with research starting freshman year, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. I love the whole process of asking questions, developing a process, and never really finding the exact answer and discovering a new question, but the process is great. It’s really rewarding and I’ve had a lot of good guidance here, mostly focusing on artificial intelligence and games. It is one of the few things that not only instantly engaged me but has also continued to do so, which is pretty rare. So I decided it would be a good thing to pursue. A PhD is what I see as one of the best ways to pursue research, learn to ask better questions, and learn to hopefully find some better answers too. For UC Davis, I think it will be fun to go to the west coast- I’ve never really spend much time there. The UC Davis computer science program is phenomenal, and I have a personal mentor who is now working there, so I’ll get to continue to do research with him.

 

HCAU: What is your dream job?

EJ: Well I want to say a professional college student, because I always enjoy learning- that would be pretty great. Jokes aside, I’m still trying to figure it out. I know I really enjoy artificial intelligence research, but I also really enjoy teaching and community service. I’m trying to figure out how to bring those interests together in a way that’s interesting for me and also something that is worthwhile to give back.

 

HCAU: What is the most important thing you’ve learned during your time at AU?

EJ: The first thing that comes to mind is not to always wait until you feel ready. I know that I never really felt ready to start computer science, I didn’t really feel like I belonged initially. But looking back, if I had waited until I felt ready, I don’t think I would have delved in as much or learned as much or even be working at Pew Research Center where I am now. That’s kind of what is encouraging me to jump right into my PhD. I don’t know if anyone ever feels ready for that- it’s a huge thing to take on. Going forward I want to always remember to follow my passions and not be afraid to just jump in.

 

HCAU: What advice do you have for younger girls who are interested in computer science or a similar STEM field?

EJ: Definitely to reach out to other people like you in the field, and it’s especially helpful to find a mentor, whether that be in-person or even online. It’s helpful to have someone there who can relate to your experience and unique challenges in STEM. It’s also important to put yourself out there and embrace your passion, and realize that there are people that are going to try and discourage you. Your gender and other identities don’t make you are any less qualified or worthy of pursuing what you love and doing an amazing job at it.

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