Wilson Earns 2023 Krulcik Scholarship
Thursday, November 30, 2023 - by Kayla Papakie
School of Computer Science senior Rachel Wilson's favorite thing about Carnegie Mellon University is being immersed in a community of people who are incredibly passionate about their work. She'd even argue she's learned as much outside the classroom as she has inside.
"My friends and I are always talking about what we're learning and sharing our unique interests," she said. "I've learned so much about mechanical engineering and about designing systems or writing puzzles. And those aren't things I learned in class. It's just from being around people who are passionate about what they're doing. I feel like here we can all engage in discussions about what we're interested in."
For Wilson, those interests include computer science and cultural languages, with a keen curiosity about how the two intersect.
Considering her inquisitive nature and appreciation for scholarly discourse, it's fitting that Wilson received the 2023 Scott Robert Krulcik Scholarship in Computer Science. Named in memory of Scott Krulcik (SCS 2018), the scholarship honors an SCS student or students in their junior or senior years who have clearly demonstrated the qualities that made Krulcik so beloved during his time at CMU: a leader with a positive attitude, an insightful and compassionate scholar, an innovative contributor to the SCS community, and an inspiring peer mentor.
Wilson grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and attended a liberal arts high school, where she elected to take advanced math and computer science courses when she could.
"There was just one computer science teacher at my school," she said. "He helped me take more advanced classes, and we did an independent study during my senior year."
Wilson felt grateful that her high school provided a solid foundation of writing, reading and critical thinking skills, but she really wanted to dive further into math and computer science.
"I thought, 'Okay, I've grasped the liberal arts, now I want to do something a lot more technical,'" she said.
As soon as she toured CMU, she was sold. But because of the pandemic, her freshman year in the fall of 2020 looked a lot different than it did during her tour. Instead of having a roommate, she had a dorm room to herself with twice as much furniture as she needed, so she pushed the beds together to make a giant king-sized bed and created her own L-shaped desk. Instead of attending big in-person lectures, a group would meet in a lecture hall to spread out and watch a movie on the projector screen.
"It was definitely not the experience I was expecting, but I actually had a really good time despite the situation," she said. "Sure, it wasn't this vibrant campus anymore, and there were only nine people on my floor in Donner Hall, but it still felt new."
When campus came back to life during her sophomore year, she said it felt like a second freshman year. Experiencing the pandemic at such a significant juncture in her life gave Wilson some perspective. She decided that she would not put too much pressure on herself academically and would simply do her best.
"I was like, 'I need to chill out a bit. I need to take my time,'" she said. "But I can't say that I truly have."
Wilson has been a teaching assistant (TA) for all but one semester since her sophomore year, first for 15-150: Functional Programming and now for 15-312: Foundations of Programming Languages.
"I've always loved teaching. It is the way I learn, and being a TA has been really rewarding to me," Wilson said.
She also interned with Duolingo last summer and was involved with CMU CS Academy for two summers, both experiences where she could utilize her Hispanic Studies minor.
"I did translation for CS Academy, which was really cool because they've been translating every single course to bring their curricula to Latin America," she said.
At Duolingo, Wilson worked with AI tools like GPT-4 to help streamline the language content creation process for contractors. She worked on a web-based project creating an interface, connecting it to the network and debugging everything front to back.
"I felt like a much better programmer afterward," she said. "It was great to work with both linguists and software engineers to solve language-based coding problems. It also meant that all my coworkers loved learning languages as much as I did, and I got to practice lots of Spanish while I was there."
But her resume isn't all academics and professional development. It was important to Wilson that she make time for other activities she enjoyed.
"I spent all last year on Buggy," she said. "I love our weird things like that. The traditions."
Receiving the Krulcik Scholarship has helped Wilson to eliminate some self-doubt, especially because her Hispanic Studies minor meant she was taking a handful of different classes than her peers and did not have as much time as she would have liked to dive into some of the computer science electives.
"Like many students in SCS, I did really, really well in high school. But here, it's been a little different. I've been trying to do the best that I can, and in some instances, that hasn't gone as well as I thought," she said. "Knowing that others think I'm doing well enough to deserve this scholarship is really nice."
Wilson, who did not get to experience the traditional high school graduation amidst the pandemic, will graduate with her class this coming May. But she won't leave CMU just yet. She will be participating in the Fifth Year Scholars program, during which she plans to pursue a CMU-funded community impact project that combines Spanish and computer science skills.
"I'm excited to look at how we teach computer science and how it relates to a person's native language," she said. "Code itself is mostly in English. It's developed in English, the keywords are in English and the documentations are in English. So for those whose first language is not English, I want to understand if it would be easier or harder for them if code was in their native language."
Beyond the Fifth Year Scholars program, Wilson has ambiguous but ambitious plans. She hasn't ruled out graduate school and a career in teaching, but she is also considering applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to travel somewhere she can continue combining Spanish and computer science.
"Everything uses computers, so I know my skills can be useful wherever I go," she said.
For more information, Contact:
Aaron Aupperlee | 412-268-9068 | email@example.com