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  • CSSE Trailblazer: William Leif Jones

    Photo of William Leif Jones

    How Monmouth Gave Me a Second Chance.

    I am very lucky to have been accepted into Monmouth University. College was not initially in my path when I graduated high school in 2004. As a young father, I felt like I had to do what was necessary to make sure my daughter had the life and opportunities that I did not. I had made the decision to enlist in the United States Marine Corps and excelled in all areas of my time spent in service. After 5 years enlisted and 2 deployments later, my time in the Marines had come to an end and it was now time to make a life for my family and myself out in the civilian world. I had learned such a sense of duty and responsibility in the Marine Corps that it was harder than I had imagined to fit in with my peers. When I interviewed for my first civilian job in the real world they saw the maturity I possessed and gave me a management position at Sam’s Club. I eventually stepped down to an overnight stock position to help take care of my children during the day, and to take some time to work on my mental health. I struggled a bit at first going from the extremes of working for the United States Marine Corps and being the “best of the best” to not quite having a purpose. As I worked on ways to accept and cope with my PTSD, I started to connect with some of the other veterans and realized I could do more and that I wanted to do more with my life. I needed to have some sort of fulfillment and find a way to serve my country on my terms, so in 2014 I decided to use my GI Bill and applied to Monmouth University.

    I wanted to make a difference but was unsure what I could do with my anxiety, so I decided to look into working with computers. I wasn’t too familiar with the computer science and software engineering department but for the first time since I had gotten out of the service, I knew once again that I was going to be a part of something greater than myself. When I started here at Monmouth the Computer Science and Software Engineering department became a second family. Professors and students alike were more than willing to help; the support here has been amazing. The students in your classes become your brothers and sisters with whom you spend all your time with. The class sizes are small, which makes each class personable. I have been very lucky to meet brilliant individuals who I know I will remain friends with for the rest of my life.

    Monmouth gave me the chance to learn the skills I needed to embrace a career for the rest of my life. I was not very aware when I embarked on this new chapter how much programming and the military had in common but, it truly did. As I went through class after class, all the disciplines that I had learned in the Marines could be translated into my code. There were rules and structure and I realized that is what I had been missing. Taken the things that I had been taught in the classroom, I had learned that this was just the beginning. Getting involved with the local student run IEEE/ACM chapter was where I found the people that strived for more. We did hackathons, outreach, and even host a high school programming competition. There are so many things to keep you occupied and to get involved on campus. Monmouth also has research opportunities

    that allow you to work with faculty on a project that they are working on. All these activities are available and allowed me to become a better programmer.

    Finally, I learned that the misconception of working with computers did not mean that there would be no human interaction. This was not the case and Monmouth prepared me for that too. I was also amazed to find out how many options there are within the coding field, from medical to banking, or even where I ended up back with the military. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to receive an offer from Northrop Grumman where I will be an entry level software engineer working with the military. Monmouth has shown me the door and I made the choice to walk through it.

  • CSSE Trailblazer: Lauren Niesz

    Photo of Lauren NieszMy name is Lauren Niesz and I am a current graduate student of Information Systems (Technical Track). I want to share with you what my journey has been like in this program. My undergraduate degree was actually in English—totally unrelated to Information Systems. I have a degree in not only a different major, but in a completely different school of thought. However, being at Monmouth University for both my undergraduate degree and now my graduate degree has truly been the best decision of my life.

    It was because of the smaller class sizes and more personal experiences that I was afforded such incredible opportunities all along at Monmouth. In an undergraduate degree, all students are required to take an Information Technology (IT) course; I was lucky enough to have had a professor who noticed my potential in the tech field. It was because of the relationship that we built during my undergrad that I took on the IT minor. If I hadn’t met this professor, worked for her, and taken that minor, I would’ve never had the confidence to take on this graduate degree.

    This personalized learning experience and interest in student wellbeing did not change in the Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSSE) Department when I started my graduate degree immediately after graduating with my humanities bachelor’s degree.

    I said I was confident starting the program and I wasn’t lying; however, confidence undoubtedly waivers when you enter a field you have no experience in. Meltdowns and second-guessing will ensue and feel consuming at times, but, at Monmouth, the professors and student peers, are the absolute best support. I took a required Data Structures and Algorithms course over the summer and cried almost every day because I was having a very hard time understanding the abstraction and programming and was on the verge of failing. My peer, Lulu, a Chinese exchange student, took me under her wing and I went to tutoring with her every week. I also went to the professor who assured me he knew I was trying my best and he was proud of me. Taking this course was one of the hardest things I endured in my studies…but, I passed! There is literally help at every step of the way at Monmouth, and, specifically, in the CSSE Department.

    At Monmouth, seldom will you ever run into a student or professor who isn’t willing to help. There is even a Student Cyber Lounge in the heart of CSSE, Howard Hall, where students not only hang out and relax, but also take that space and utilize it for learning and collaboration. In this area, you’ll always find other students to ask questions and engage in healthy discussion.

    Another area of student life as a student in the CSSE Department is the IEEE Club. I currently serve as the Secretary for the club and have met some lifelong friends being a part of it. We offer experiences such as conference attendance, tech talks from industry folks, and our annual kickball game against the Math Department to name a few. And, if you’re looking for a meeting of great minds for philanthropic type events, we have the Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE) Chapter, which is the computing honor society. I currently serve as the Treasurer of our UPE Chapter and I can attest that it’s a great chapter to be accepted into and to get involved with.

    At Monmouth, you are not a number or a statistic. Monmouth cares about your future. The CSSE Department wants to see its students succeed. Without this incessant will for success instilled in each professor and each peer, I wouldn’t be in the position I am.

    What position is that, you ask? I was recommended to apply for a scholarship through Anita for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing by the same professor who encouraged me to enter this graduate program all together. I was granted the scholarship and, at this conference, the largest conference for women in computing in the world, I accepted an offer to work for Comcast/NBC/Universal in their Philadelphia Headquarters as a testing engineer in June, following my graduation.

    It’s challenging to come from an unrelated background, but anything really is possible with the right people in your court and that is what I was fortunate enough to be afforded during my time at Monmouth University in the CSSE Department.