Evanjelin Mahmoodi knew she was interested in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) when she arrived at UC Santa Cruz but soon discovered she especially liked mathematics.
Now she’s graduating with a double major in mathematics and computer science, one of the few women students in those departments.
“It’s not very diverse, we have a long way to go,” said Mahmoodi, 22, the first in her family to attend a four-year university.
This summer she will work at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., in computer science after winning a prestigious NIH fellowship that helped pay for her undergraduate work.
She also is wrapping up an internship at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where she worked on developing different virtual reality experiences. Another project involved network programming so employees at different NASA centers can join and interact with each other in the same virtual environment.
Mahmoodi, who was born in Iran of Armenian heritage, moved to the United States at age 10, and grew up in the Los Angeles area as an only child.
She especially credits her success to programs at UC Santa Cruz such as the MESA Engineering Program (MEP) and support groups for first-generation and STEM students.
“That’s been one of my favorite highlights,” she said. “It’s a really supportive space; you can get help to catch up with students who have more privilege or opportunities.” She said the programs were a big help in applying for scholarships and graduate programs, and in professional development.
“Having a community of other like-minded students is so important. It helps you succeed throughout school and beyond school as well,” she said. “Having the mentors I had in MEP and STEM diversity—helpful and supportive mentors—really made a difference.”
Mahmoodi said she hopes eventually to complete a Ph.D. in computer science.