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The Wow Factor
Page 2 of 3
A STAR IS BORN
Had Andrea Grimes, CS'05, followed her first passion, she would have been a music major. She likes to play the piano and sing, and her father is a pastor of music at a California church.
Instead, she followed her mother's advice to study something more practical. "I took a programming class in high school," Grimes remembers, "and I thought, 'This is fun.' And my parents had friends who worked at IBM and Intel, and I got to shadow them when I was in high school."
A career in the digital world, she says, "seemed like a cool thing to do." She decided to become a software engineer.
As a senior in high school, Grimes was accepted at Princeton. But Northeastern wanted the high achiever, too, and was able to offer her a Presidential Scholarship, a program supported by the Leadership Campaign. In fact, through the campaign, alumni and friends created about $44.5 million in scholarship funds.
In the end, Grimes chose Northeastern. It wasn't just the scholarship money that sealed the deal; it was also the people at the College of Computer and Information Science. "They seemed really excited about having me come," says Grimes.
Plus, she says, "I really liked the idea of co-op. And they told me I could start on research right away."
It took her a few years to find an aspect of computer science she was really passionate about. Finally, she did: how to make computers, and technology in general, easier for people to work with.
Today, Grimes is a student in the Georgia Institute of Technology's PhD program in human-centered computing. Ultimately, she may want to work in an industry research lab, where the focus reaches beyond making a product to analyzing how potential users would interact with that product.
"I'm not really interested in developing the next gadget that people will use in the next couple of months and then get sick of," she says. "I would like to help improve people's lives."
Actually, she already has. At Northeastern, working with associate professor Robert Futrelle, Grimes helped create software that pinpoints language patterns in biology text, to give biologists a better tool for searching databases.
Later, she helped assistant professor Peter Tarasewich study privacy issues related to mobile devices.
As everyone predicted, Grimes was an academic star on Huntington Avenue. She had the highest GPA in her class three years running, co-authored several research papers, and attended international conferences.
Her senior year, she was named the outstanding woman undergraduate in the nation by the Computing Research Association. The male winner was from MIT; runners-up included students from Carnegie Mellon, Brown, Columbia, Berkeley, and Harvard.
Grimes also taught an introductory computer-technology skills class to low-income adults in Dorchester. She says she realized "most computer software is not developed with these types of people in mind. A lot of the things I taught them were very counterintuitive."
As a result, she found herself gravitating toward the human side of computing- "thinking from the user's perspective," she says.
The Georgia Tech doctoral program offers her the perfect interdisciplinary mix. In addition to human-computer interaction, she's studying sociology, anthropology, cognitive science, and the philosophy of technology.
"We're learning more about how people work, how people work together, and how technology can better fit within society," she says.
For example, Grimes is exploring how technology can help African Americans improve their dietary habits. Traditional forms of nutritional support, such as brochures, don't always work well in the African American community, she notes, because they may trigger feelings of cultural isolation.
But technology-based options, such as video games, video soap operas, or interactive television, could use culturally specific approaches to tout the benefits of cutting down on fatty foods or eating whole grains.
"People don't realize all the capabilities of computer
science," says Grimes. "We can do so much more than just write things
for people's Palm Pilots."
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