Student Essay Contest

Let Passion Guide the Way

2018 Essay Contest: Undergraduate Level Honorable Mention

By: Freya Wang, University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida)

I am sitting in an auditorium with 250 seats, dead center. Around me, shiny laptops decorated with League of Legends stickers open, power buttons flicker on, microphones adjust. My hands drum anxiously on the wood of my desk space. My eyes glance over at the empty screen before me. I know nothing about this class on beginner computer science and nothing about writing code. I had heard the rumors of Silicon Valley harassment scandals. I had seen the angry comments about the rise of women in STEM roles. A distinctive dread fills my stomach. Suddenly, she enters. With teal green hair neatly cut and a bike helmet at her hip, my professor pulls up her presentation on the big screen.
The lights dim, the lecture begins, and I experience for the first time Dr. Kristy Boyer in my University of Florida Programming Fundamentals 1 course. In fifty minutes, Dr. Boyer defined what a computer was, outlined the mathematical basis for its existence, and dispelled whatever fear I had about women working in technology fields. By the end of class I was hooked, ready to dive deep into the world of binary logic and for loops under a professor who truly had my best academic and personal interest at heart. Dr. Boyer was born on a farm in rural Georgia to a family in which no one prior to her had received a college education. She spent her early life working with her father to repair tractors. Despite her lack of resources, her experience with fixing broken machinery ignited a spark within her, a passion for understanding not only how machines work, but also how to improve them through logic and problem-solving. In 3rd grade, Dr. Boyer’s elementary school teacher brought in a heavy Apple IIE personal computer for the class. “Figure it out,” she instructed them. No one had ever seen this wonderful gadget before. Here, Dr. Boyer began her journey as a computer scientist, writing simple if statements and other code snippets in the computer language “BASIC”.
She marveled at what the machine could do. The extent to which mathematical principles could be used to produce technology fascinated her. And, even when that teacher passed away a year later, the spark in her mind continued to wonder at what was possible in a finite life. Soon after, Dr. Boyer took whatever chance she could at furthering her knowledge of math, both theoretical and applied. She attended a middle school math camp and there realized math’s potential to clearly explain the natural world. Later, she majored in Mathematics and Computer Science as an undergrad at Valdosta State University. Then, she graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering. However, after realizing that her talents were not well suited for industry, she returned to academia and attained a Ph. D in computer science from North Carolina State University. At this point, Dr. Boyer decided to immerse herself in computers and to pursue her research interests in human- centered computing. Thus, she became an Associate Professor for the University of Florida’s Computer, Information, Science, and Engineering Department and Director of its Digital Arts and Sciences Program. Nowadays, Dr. Boyer focuses on her research that studies how people use dialogue for teaching and learning in traditional and non-traditional classrooms. She monitors how tutors and teaching assistants speak and explores how artificial intelligence can converse with students.
She also works with all levels of education and hopes to use dialogue to better understand academic success. Her goal is to use computer science to identify relationships between teachers and pupils that impact learning experiences, and to examine how background influences educational achievement. Despite her step away from pure, theoretical mathematics, Dr. Boyer’s background directly impacts the logical way in which she views her research and her life. By modeling dialogue through mathematical principles, she can represent the real world computationally. In other words, computer science allows Dr. Boyer to combine technological and engineering concepts with the humanities. That idea is what makes it so fascinating to her. Dr. Boyer’s philosophy is that “passion should guide our career and personal choices, while interests motivate us to do more”. She incorporates this notion into her classroom by truly enjoying all she does and by producing the most well-prepared students she can. Her lessons are both mentally and emotionally stimulating. Each begins with a pep-talk, a reminder of what is possible despite hardship before discussing a challenging topic. She always maintains organized lectures and communicates changes to the class immediately through the course website. Despite the difficult nature of some computing topics, such as loops and arrays, Dr. Boyer neatly breaks down these concepts and manages to incorporate an element of fun into her work.
For example, our projects involved coding helicopter range calculators for dog-searching companies and creating message de-scramblers for post-apocalyptic rebel groups. Her passion for understanding her students extends outside the classroom as well. She stays up to date with events around campus and deeply cares for student body health and wellness. It was her who told our class about an annual vigil for students who had committed suicide on campus in solidarity with them and their families. She has attended it every year since it began. Dr. Kristy Boyer is truly passionate about her role as a researcher, educator, and mother. She loves her job as it lets her explore her hobbies in the workplace. When not on campus, she can be found scuba diving, playing the guitar or the piano, cooking and baking, and hanging out with her 2 kids. Her life and career truly exemplify the potential of women in mathematics and computer science.
About the student:
Freya Wang is a sophomore biology major at the University of Florida under the pre-dental track. Though she no longer studies computer science, she utilizes principles of the subject in her research on dental curing lights with the University of Florida College of Dentistry. Her research combines her love of statistics and probability with her interest in oral healthcare. Outside of the classroom, Freya enjoys teaching elementary school kids and special needs patients the importance of dental hygiene, volunteering at local dental hospitals, and painting decorative mugs.