Baskin Engineering Class of 2022 Profiles

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Tiffany-Ellen Vo

Tiffany-Ellen Vo (College Nine '22, computer engineering)

As a young girl interested in engineering, Tiffany-Ellen Vo quickly realized she was going to stand out.

She remembers getting some looks when she walked into a fourth-grade robotics class because she was the only girl. But that only motivated her to work harder, and she ended up winning the robotics competition.

“I wanted to show all those boys that you can do the exact same thing, but in a dress,” she said.

Vo, 22, is graduating this spring from UC Santa Cruz with a computer engineering degree, and has already secured a job as a software engineer at Cisco.

Vo grew up in Pittsburg in the East Bay to Vietnamese parents. They were refugees who came to the U.S. with the hope that their children would have a better life.

“Education was the most important thing in our family,” Vo said. “It was the only opportunity my siblings and I could use to raise ourselves,” she said.

She attended UC Santa Cruz on a full scholarship but had trouble initially with some of her courses. After the deaths of two family members, she failed some classes at UC Santa Cruz and was initially denied a spot in her major. She appealed, but that was denied too. But with the support of the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP), which promotes the retention and graduation of diverse students, she was eventually allowed back in the major.

“MEP has helped me stay in engineering,” she said, saying the program offers mentoring, tutoring, workshops in résumé writing, and job searches for first-generation low-income students. “It offers basically everything you need to set you up for the industry.”

Vo diligently took advantage of every opportunity she was offered, including participating in MEP Baskin Engineering Excellence Scholars, a two-week summer intensive for incoming freshmen, and teaching elementary and junior high school girls in a summer Girls in Engineering program. She also interned with Michigan State University to help with the software development of Avida-ED, a software platform that simulates biology lab experiments.

In addition, Vo was first author for research she did with UC Santa Cruz’s Dynamics Autonomous Navigation Surface Engineering and Robotics Lab. The project was a design for an exoskeleton people could wear to help with physical therapy on their upper bodies.

She was thrilled to get the offer for her Cisco job during finals week. She starts the position in July.

“It is really rewarding to see the finish line in sight and be able to generate income after college,” she said.
 
Written by Lisa Renner
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Teresa Faasolo

Teresa Faasolo, (Merrill '22, computer engineering)

Teresa Faasolo decided to study computer engineering because she was good at math and highly interested in computers.

But she had no idea how difficult the major would be at UC Santa Cruz. Her experience with coding was limited to Scratch, a programming language geared for children. At the university, she was surrounded by people who were entering coding competitions in high school.

“I didn’t realize I was so disadvantaged,” said Faasolo, who grew up in East Palo Alto.

She knew she needed help, and she got it at the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP), which provides support for first-generation college students from low-income families. Through assistance with the program, her grades in computer courses improved and her confidence grew.

“I understood what I was coding and what I was doing,” she said.

The students at MEP provided emotional support and network connections, and gave her much-needed advice on the right contacts and how to optimize her time.

“It was great to learn from seniors or basically anyone who took a class before I was going to take that class,” she said. “MEP is like a family to me. They are always there.”

Faasolo said it was helpful that she did summer internships—including under the College Track and Emerson Collective First Gen program. Those experiences led to her getting a part-time job as a digital marketing intern with EdLyft, a website that offers tutoring and mentoring for computer science students. Faasolo wrote social media posts, interviewed students about their experiences, and looked over the company’s content. She has been offered an extension of her EdLyft job. She is also looking into other possibilities and is planning to apply for a full-time position as a hardware engineer.

Her father, a retired sheet metal worker, and her mother, a private caregiver, are thrilled with her success, as is the rest of her close-knit Tongan and Samoan community. It has been hard for her to explain to them what her college experience has been like because they’ve never been through it. Most of her family members are construction workers, business owners, or government employees.

“I’m the first computer engineer in the family—even in the extended family,” she said.
 
Written by Lisa Renner