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Dublin High School’s Malina Jiang Discovers Computer Science at Stanford University

January 26, 2015
Stanford University student and Dublin High School alum Malina Jiang

Malina Jiang

The latest entry in both the Life in College and Women in STEM series of articles profiles Dublin High School Class of 2013 valedictorian and Stanford University Class of 2017 sophomore Malina Jiang. Malina talks about how she became passionate about computer science, earned a place in Stanford, and landed her first engineering internship at WorkDay. At what point did you discover a passion for computer science?

Malina Jiang: “While at Dublin High School I always thought I’d be in a STEM field, originally in math. It was college where I had my first exposure to computer science, in one of my first classes. I definitely want to credit all my teachers at Dublin High for keeping me interested in science, math and technology throughout high school.

“My first computer science class piqued my interest, but it was after my second CS class, and learning about recursion, when I really became interested in CS as a major.” Were there any classes at Dublin High School that stand out?

Jiang: “I remember my AP Chemistry and AP Physics classes, which were two of my favorite classes in high school. My AP Physics teacher, Ms. Lewis, was really engaging and showed how the concepts could be applied in the real world. Even though the material was hard, it was worth the struggle to understand the material.” How did you manage to survive an all AP curriculum for your junior and senior years?

Jiang: “I wanted to challenge myself and believed that I could succeed if I put in the effort. I also tried to really understand the material, not just memorize facts, because if you understand the material it’s a lot easier to reason off what you know than it is to keep a bunch of formulas in your head.” Did Dublin High School AP classes ease your transition to Stanford?

Jiang: “In some aspects, definitely. Several of my AP classes transferred which gave me a head start and allowed me to take more advanced classes in my freshman year. For example, I had credits coming into Stanford for chemistry and calculus.” How did you approach the AP exams, and how do AP exams differ from typical high school exams?

Jiang: “In AP classes there is a big build-up to the AP exams at the end of the year, exams that cover the material for the entire year. As a result, you are forced to absorb what you learn throughout the year rather than just forgetting the material after a chapter test. You learn how to cumulate knowledge which is really helpful in college.” Describe the transition from a high school to college curriculum, and living away from home.

Malina and friends - Stanford football game (credit to Alvaro Ponce)Jiang: “College courses are harder than high school courses, which is to be expected. There is also more concentration and focus in a college curriculum because you are closer to what you want to do with your life.

“Living in dorms has been great and the distance from home is optimal because it’s just far enough away that I can have the full college experience of living on your own, while still feeling close enough that I can reach out to my family for advice or visit more frequently.” How did you select Stanford over the other options you had to choose from?

Jiang: “I went to Stanford’s Admit Weekend and I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the campus which for me was the deciding factor. In the end it really comes down to how the school fits you.” What have you learned from your first summer internship at WorkDay?

Jiang: “I attended campus career fairs and spoke to representatives from many companies, and was eventually contacted by WorkDay. The next step was an on campus interview and I was lucky enough to be offered a position.

“The internship provided me with my first look at a real work environment, which was very exciting. I was on the cloud team, as an engineering intern, which was great because cloud is such a hot area in technology. A lot of the problems we were working on were new and cutting edge, which was really cool. I was exposed to a what coding is like in the real world, and how to work within a company culture. I met a lot of people who are passionate about technology and computer science, and students my age who are also computer science majors. Overall an exciting experience.” What has been the biggest misconception about coding from friends and family members who are not in a technology field?

HackTECH 2014

HackTECH 2014

Jiang: “There is an image of coders hiding in server rooms, in the dark and on the computer all the time which is not accurate. There are a lot of applications of computer science that people don’t realize. My favorite story is computer science combined with origami. One of my idols, Robert Lang, is an origamist who was able to write a program that creates origami patterns. He creates really lifelike origami pieces and was also able to use the same program to help NASA deploy satellites. Satellites, when unfolded, have a large surface area, but when being sent into space have to be very compact. Lang was able to use his origami model to pack the satellites!” Now that you are approaching the halfway point of your undergraduate studies, what are your plans for the remainder of your time at Stanford?

Jiang: “I’m pretty much done with my core requirements and am deciding on a specialist track. I’m probably going to specialize in the Information Track, leading towards a bachelors in computer science and a minor in math.” How important is it to enter college already knowing how to code?

Jiang: “I’ve encountered many different kinds of coders. There are those that have been coding since they were in elementary school, and knew they were going to be computer scientists as soon as they arrived here, and there are people like me who had never coded before but decided after arriving in college that coding was the thing for them. People who have coded before might have an advantage in the beginning, but I think if you really enjoy computer science and are willing to spend some time outside of class to learn on your own, it really isn’t much of a disadvantage if you haven’t coded before.

“And it is definitely alright not to know what you want to do upon entering college – most people don’t!” Have you encountered any stereotypes regarding women and technology?

Jiang: “I’ve never run into anyone who has discouraged me because of my gender, and feel fortunate to be in an environment where being a woman in STEM fields is encouraged. I believe that the situation for women in STEM is changing for the better.” Given the academic rigor of your program, have you had time to pursue interests outside the classroom?

Malina at a sorority formalJiang: “I’m in a sorority, Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, which is very unexpected for me! I’m involved in philanthropic, fundraising events, and am also a member of the Stanford Chess Club. I had a group of friends in my freshman dorm who decided to go out to rush and I decided I should try something new in college. I’ve made it a goal to push myself in college, and to do things I wouldn’t normally do, and going to Rush Week was an example of that. I really liked the people I met, decided to pledge and eventually joined as a member.” What parting advice do you have for seniors who are in the middle of the college admissions process?

Jiang: “Don’t be too anxious because at this point you can’t change your application, and don’t be crushed if you don’t get the response you were expecting, because there is a place for everyone and odds are you’ll be happy wherever you ended up going to college. In the end, you’ll likely be accepted to the school where you are meant to be.”

At the Dublin High School 2013 Senior Awards Night Malina Jiang was recognized as a Dublin Rotary Club Student of the Month (February), was awarded a United States Marine Corps Scholastic Excellence Award, the Dublin High School PFSO Scholarship, won the Gael Achievement Award for Spanish, was named a California Scholarship Federation Life Member, earned a Gael Scholar and President’s Gold Award for Education Excellence and earned Dublin High School’s Advanced Scholar Diploma. Ms. Jiang was also awarded a National Merit Scholarship.

Other articles in the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Series: