Honors College student Vanessa Chen has a creative side and a logical side, and she wants to use both.
She started at UMass Lowell as a graphic design major, but that didn’t satisfy her logical side, she says. She decided to try an honors computer science class with Assoc. Teaching Prof. David Adams – and she got hooked.
“I took one class, and after the first day, I thought, ‘This is it!’ I fell in love with computer science,” she says. “Computer science is creative problem-solving, and the way that you program is your own style.”
Now, she works for Adams, grading other students’ work. And she spreads the gospel of computer science (and Adams) anytime she gets the chance.
“Whenever somebody younger asks me, ‘Should I take a class?’ I say, ‘If it’s Prof. Adams, you have to take it,’” she says. “He’s so passionate about computer science, and he gets the students to be passionate about it as well.”
Chen went to high school in nearby Pelham, New Hampshire (her family has since moved to Hampton, New Hampshire), so UMass Lowell was a logical choice for her, she says, since she could live at home to save money.
Added incentives included admission to the Honors College and the award of a $4,000 Immersive Scholarship, which undergraduates can use after their first year to do research with a faculty member or study abroad.
Chen decided to take advantage of the honors study abroad program in Cuba during her sophomore year. She was excited to visit a completely different culture and use some of the Spanish she’d studied in high school.
“It was honestly the best experience of my life,” she says. “It was so culturally immersive. The program did a good job of making you feel like a Cuban, not like a tourist. Even though we visited museums and all that, we had a lot of down time and we could go off on our own and talk to people. And the friendships I made through the trip were so special.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Chen found another creative outlet: Instagram. She started out by posting food photos. Then, when Instagram introduced “Reels,” allowing users to post short videos, Chen began posting fashion videos, like “Emojis as Outfits.”
Instagram featured one of her reels, “Styling Graphic Ts,” in late August 2020, and within four months, her account shot up from having 1,500 followers to 84,000 and counting.
Now, being an Instagram influencer is a part-time job that gets her a lot of free clothes. Ultimately, though, she wants to work full-time in web development.
“You dedicate hours to a problem, and you’re slamming your head against the table, and it won’t work,” she says. “And then you get it – and it just feels so amazing.”