Kristen Barrett: Conquering Challenges in College and Preparing for Her Future

by Caroline Kaufman

For LSU student Kristen Barrett, the strong female characters in science-fiction classics like “Star Trek” and “Alien”  were more than just entertainment. They helped her leave behind outmoded stereotypes about the role of women in science and technology fields, inspiring her professional pursuit of computer science.

“I just saw these powerful women doing amazing things in technology or just being generally courageous and clever individuals, and it made me really reconsider my previous interest in pursuing a criminal defense attorney career,” Barrett says. “Up until then I thought engineering was mostly for boys, or something I couldn’t possibly do, due to my weak math skills in middle school.”

Today Barrett is writing her own career story in LSU’s College of Engineering. She is set to graduate in May with a concentration in software engineering and a minor in digital media technology before heading off to Houston to begin a job in technology consulting. We talked to Barrett about some of her experiences at LSU and her plans for the future.

An Internship With Real-World Impact

Barrett completed an internship at ExxonMobil last summer, with job duties that included updating a rarely used app designed to help employees view their benefits and compensation. Her task was to make the app more user-friendly and modern.

“I basically had to learn how to find requirements, manage my time and create a project from start to finish in a short amount of time,” she says. “I loved the challenge of creating a product that everyone, even non-technical individuals, could enjoy.”

It was a highly visible project for an intern, and even though Barrett had plenty of support over the life of the project, she says she learned plenty about working independently.

The Stress and Reward of Writing an Honors Thesis

Barrett says one of her biggest challenges so far has been writing her honors thesis, which she’s been researching since her freshman year. It’s an examination of computer science curriculums in Louisiana and how young people are exposed to the subject.

Along with other students, she received a Google Ignite grant to teach computer science at McKinley High School, an experience she plans to include in her thesis.

“I absolutely love it, and it’s taught me a lot about not only gathering evidence and cherishing the scientific process, but also about the current state of computer science education in Louisiana,” she says.

Barrett says faculty members have been supportive and instrumental in helping her with her thesis.

New Challenges Ahead

Barrett has a job lined up after graduation with national technology consulting firm Pariveda Solutions’ Houston location, where she will work as a consultant.

“I’m incredibly excited to put my skills to work,” she says. “It’s one thing to learn about all of these concepts in the classroom, but as my internships have taught me, it’s another thing completely to apply them to the real world.”

Here’s her advice for new CS students beginning their own challenges: “You only get out of this degree as much as you put into it, so get involved in everything beyond your classes. Find clubs to join, try finding a professor to research with, and try to score those internships. Those were some of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had.”

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