Meet Gabriela Castillo-Rivera a Student Majoring in Computer Science at Middle Tennessee State University

By Awanto Margaret - October 23, 2019

This week, we are happy to present our very first student Interview with Gabriela Castillo-Rivera. Gabriela was born in Puerto Rico, raised in Florida and is currently attending Middle Tennessee State University. Today Gabriela shares her experience as a student and gives great actionable tips on simple things you can do if you are considering majoring in computer science. Gabriela is full of dreams and goals and I am convinced she is on her way to making the world a better place. Find out how.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a CS major. 

 I never thought I would major in computer science. I always did really well in school but the only class I was scared of failing in middle school was computer science. At the time, it was more hardware-based, my teacher saw that I was struggling and he knew that I was doing well in other classes. So he let me write a 32 paged single-spaced story instead, which I did and swore off computer science for a while. Years later I was introduced to the video game World of Warcraft and I thought it was cool, but what really drew me in was its focus on math and logic and how creatively these topics were used in a video game. So I decided to take a coding course on Code Academy and just completely fell in love with coding.

What advice can you give to girls who are thinking of majoring in Computer Science?

First of all, it can be very overwhelming being a female, especially a female of color trying to start out in this field because you don't look or think like the average CS student. When I first started, I had imposter syndrome. I actually still have it, which is feeling like you don't belong. But being different is what makes you unique, which is important. You have the power to offer a different perspective. When it comes to creating technologies and programs, having different points of view helps you create something so much better than just one person can, with one point of view. So, derive your strength from the fact that you're different because that difference is what you bring to the table that no one else can. So make that your grounding point because that's what is going to keep you going in those moments where you show up and you're the only woman and you feel like you are not being heard, or a little oppressed even when people don't necessarily mean to. Let that keep you going. 

I started computer science without any computer science background, I had no idea what I was doing. So if you're interested, start now, ask questions. A great starting point will be an App I actually have on my phone and always recommend to everyone. It's called SoloLearn. We usually have so much time within the day whether it's on the bus or in-between classes, where we can scroll through Instagram or Pinterest but we could also use that time to build some coding skills. It teaches computer science fundamentals that could give you a head start. Plus, it's a fun and easy way to learn. But once you have that coding base step, definitely start working on your own personal projects. When you get to computer science programs you are going to be doing what other people tell you to do and that can be a little soul-crushing.  
Also, learn to Gain inspiration from your surroundings and the people you talk to. Read a lot, watch videos, because you can learn from anything. I know the bane of many college students' existence is general education courses. It is easy to question why you are required to take those. I remember taking chemistry and thinking what could I possibly gain from this. But then I decided to switch my mindset and figure out what I could gain from it. And I actually did get an idea of a cool project idea based on the general composition of atoms. Now, the program has nothing to do with chemistry but I drew inspiration from that class. It's an idea that I probably never would have had. 
And lastly but most importantly, NETWORK! Network network network! you're a minority, you're one person but you are also part of the community. So get with people like you, get with people unlike you, and start building connections because these connections are the people that lift you up to higher places.

What are your plans for the future?

Ideally, when I graduate, I want to work with an assistive technology company that creates technology for people with differing abilities such as autism, visual impairment, and other disabilities. I have big dreams. I think is important to have really big goals because it gives you something to work towards. I never got past the cheesy 'I want to make the world a better place dream.' And I don't think anyone should. So the two ways that I plan to do that are through education and empowerment. First looking at empowerment; I want to create an educational and assistive technology because I feel like our world is not catered to people with differing abilities such as autism, blindness, and other disabilities. Just like anyone else, they have so much potential and ability to do amazing things but don't always have the resources to be able to do so. So I want to be able to bridge that gap. That is where I want to make an impact. 

As for Education, I feel like there are so many underlying issues in our society such as school funding, the use of nonrenewable resources, and the hardships faced by low income and minority communities. All these issues exist, but they aren't being hunkered down. I will like to be able to have the information needed to pinpoint these problems and come up with solutions. I want to have a team of data analysts that come up with all the data and voice these concerns because then, these problems will no longer be ignored. We will be able to say here is the proof and demand a solution. So these are the two main things amongst others I want to do in the future. 

Are you interested in mentoring or being a mentor?

Oh absolutely. I do what I can now. I didn't know any junior or senior woman in Computer Science when I first started. So when I see freshman females come, I talk with them and let them know I am here if they need anything. I love to see people excel. It makes me happy. And when you see other people excel, it pushes you to excel more. I want to make the world a better place and I do realize that as an individual, there is only so much I can do. So we need to mentor and support each other. Helping someone become better pushes me to be better as well. 

I want to thank Gabriela for taking the time to interview with us. I have no doubt she will make a major impact on the World and especially underrepresented groups and people with disabilities. I could relate to her college experience despite it being over a decade since I started my CS Journey. Although this reminds me, we still have a long way to go as women in STEM, I was also super encouraged by her determination, her goals and plans to make the world a better place. I am confident Gabriela has a bright future ahead and is definitely one to watch. 

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  1. Great interview. She has a great future laid out in front of her.

    1. Thanks for reading and I strongly believe that she does :)