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Anne Van Devender '09

Neuroscience (PreMed) Major, Women and Gender Studies Minor

"Girls are bad at math."

That's certainly not true, but it seemed so to me, as I, like many women, was discouraged in early mathematics courses. When I came to Washington and Lee I wanted to avoid math at all costs. How was I going to get out of the General Education requirement for taking calculus? By winter term of freshman year I had found a loophole: students could take "Survey of Computer Science" and it would count as a math course. I blindly signed up for the course, unsure of what to expect and certainly unaware of what was ahead.

To my surprise, I was good at computer science. Were they sure this was the right class? A science? A "mathy" science? Not only was I doing well in the class, but I'd never had more fun with a subject. Sign me up--I was ready for more, yet I was still not sure I fit the form. After all, I came to W&L with the intention of majoring in U.S. History. Math and science were not even on my radar, and without the support of the W&L faculty they would have stayed that way.

Two weeks before the start of my sophomore spring term, I approached my now-advisor, Professor Ken Lambert, and asked if he would be willing to advise an independent study. In a typical liberal arts fashion, I wanted to create a course that would cover all the bases-history, sociology, psychology, philosophy and women's studies-while still focusing on computer science. I called it "Computers in Society." No questions asked, he agreed, and we took on a course that would change the way I thought about computing and launch an enthusiasm for my new major.

This fall I will again take a course that I have worked with a professor to develop. Over the summer I became interested in a specific field within computer science: Human-Computer Interaction. I emailed Professor Sara Sprenkle and asked if she would be interested in overseeing a directed study. She exceeded my expectations--within three weeks, she had done research on the topic, spoken with the registrar and developed an entire course. All I had to do was sign up.

With the help of W&L's faculty, I have gone from someone who had barely heard of computer science to a major who is hoping to attend graduate school in the field next fall. As I've begun the graduate school application process, I've found that schools are asking all the same questions: "What sets you apart? What makes you different?"

My answer? My W&L education.