Ozer Has Earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering with a Double Major in Computer Science
Activities at UVA: Teaching Assistant
Q: Looking back to the time when you applied to UVA Engineering, why did you choose this school?
A: I was born in Galax, Virginia and so staying in state, paying in-state tuition, was a priority. The main reasons I chose UVA were because my sister Whatley was attending UVA – she is two years older and earned her degree in 2020, in foreign affairs with a minor in dance. Also, there is an “air of prestige” around graduates from UVA Engineering. I didn’t do much research into engineering schools before I made my decision; I just followed my gut.
I went to the Southwest Virginia Governor’s School for math and science. My professors directed me toward engineering, and it seemed like everyone around me was going into engineering, so I went with the flow.
After your time here, how are you different now – how have you grown as a person?
Of course there’s the technical skills. I came into the School knowing zero about programming or any engineering concepts. I’ve gotten a great education in those topics.
But the biggest change is my confidence level. Going into the school with no experience, I had this idea that everyone else was better than me, that I was starting from the bottom. I had a lot of imposter syndrome. I think that’s a pretty common feeling as a woman in engineering, and especially as a gay woman in engineering. You just feel like you don’t fit in.
Over time I started doing well in my classes and understanding the concepts that were brand new to me. Eventually my male peers started asking me for help. Through my college career I’ve grown to understand that no matter where you start, you can do anything. It sounds cliché, but I really think that if I put my mind to something, I am able do it. That’s the biggest development for sure.
I’ve also found a great friend group, including people outside of engineering. I’m more outgoing, confident and self-assured. I’ve developed my leadership skills a lot. I feel like I can handle whatever life throws at me.
What was your favorite or most memorable educational experience at UVA Engineering, and why? Was there someone who helped you along your journey?
Two come to mind. When I was a first year, I was taking my first hard CS course, 2150. Everyone was so worried about it, saying it takes up 40 hours a week and is super-difficult. The second assignment in that class was about linked lists.
I spent the entire day sitting in a coffee shop trying to understand this programming concept – it’s a simple concept, but it was really hard for me at the time. I was so distraught at the beginning. I felt like no one could help me and I couldn’t do it, but over the course of the day I was able to figure it out. That was really pivotal. Some of that imposter syndrome went away. I felt like a real engineer.
Another memorable experience happened during my FUN (Fundamentals of Engineering) II class. We had this final project to build a working circuit. The day before the project was due, we assembled the board, we soldered all the components in place, and it didn’t work. We were so stressed. I took the board into the NI lab on a Saturday afternoon and there was a TA there, Maansi Mehta. With Maansi’s help, I took the board apart and put it back together. And when the LED turned on, it’s such a small thing, but I was like, “Oh my God, it works!”
UVA Engineering TAs are phenomenal. They have been life savers throughout my four years here. I also got a lot of help from my capstone group – Zach Hicks, Jason Ashley, and Noelle Law. Noelle and Jason were a year above me, and so they knew more of what was going on and helped me along the way. Zach and I worked together throughout the FUN sequence. It was a great peer group.
What’s next for you?
I am going out to San Francisco. I got a job with Meta. I’m really excited for it. San Francisco has been a dream city for as long as I can remember. My official role is hardware systems engineer. It’s actually not what my major is — I’m majoring in computer engineering and computer science — but it’s kind of a mixture of coding and embedded programming, a little bit of hardware, but all abstracted. It’s more systems-level.
I’m hoping to shift towards a more software-based role because I really enjoy coding and problem-solving. Coding is like four-dimensional chess. You kind of forget all the pieces but somehow you know that what you’re typing is on the right track. It’s very satisfying when you get it to work.
What positive impact do you hope to make in the future? Is there a big societal challenge you’d like to help solve?
UVA Engineering’s Science, Technology and Society program aims to teach engineers about ethics. It’s very important and not taught at every engineering school. This past year I took STS 4500 and 4600 with Professor Kathryn Neeley. She really drilled ethics into my brain. I think my impact will have something to do with creating technology in a more ethical and responsible way and influencing other engineers to do that as well.
Meta has two of the largest social media platforms on the Internet, Facebook and Instagram. I think misinformation that is spread through social media is really troubling, to the point where I’ve gotten off of social media platforms myself. I’d like to combat misinformation in some way.
And I want to advocate for LGBTIA+ and women in engineering somehow, to make it more inclusive. It would have been good for me to have those role models, to help me more quickly realize that I can and do fit in.
How has UVA Engineering prepared you for your future, for following your dreams or personal mission?
I’ve learned the tech skills. I feel like I can do whatever coding I need to, that’s a given. The big thing is the personal development. I really feel like through the past four years there’s been a big shift in my mindset, this absolute confidence that I can do anything through hard work and with the help of my peers.
What advice would you give to engineering students who are just starting out?
Everyone says to go to lecture, and I agree with that. I rarely missed a lecture. It’s not even about the lecture material, it’s just really important to meet your professors and colleagues and make those relationships. Just showing your face in lecture day after day is a commitment. I want this professor to know that I am here and care about the class. And it makes you as an individual care more.
And along with that, don’t be scared of going to office hours. That has been the biggest help to me. Everyone thinks they’re the only one struggling on an assignment. But if you go to office hours, you realize everyone else there is also struggling. You really gain a kinship with people around you.
TA’ing is the best thing I’ve done at UVA. I’ve TA’d since second year. For past three years, six semesters, I’ve TA’d some class and I cannot recommend it enough. The best way to learn something is by teaching it. And you get so much personal satisfaction from helping people. You’ll sit with a student for an hour trying to explain something. And they’re just so confused. Eventually they’ll have that light-bulb moment. And then there’s this rush of euphoria cause everything paid off: you’ve helped somebody. When I was going through my darkest times at UVA, whenever I went to office hours to help a student, it washed everything away. You’re genuinely helping people.
So, as a first year, go to office hours, go to lecture and be a TA. It really binds everything together. It reinforces hard skills that you’ve learned. It strengthens your social skills, because you’ve got to actually talk to people. You get to make friends and meet new people. It wraps up all of your education and experience into a neat package and puts a bow on it.