CSC News

March 18, 2004

Starr sets her sights on teaching, research ... and encouraging fellow women computer science students

Julie StarrA co-op experience as a freshman gave Julie Starr an idea of what civil engineers do, and she decided she’d rather be doing something else.

Now, two degrees later, Starr is in the first year of her doctoral program in computer science at North Carolina State University’s College of Engineering, with her sights set on a tenure-track faculty position.

It’s not her first time on campus. “I've been around the department as staff member, a student, or an instructor since 1999,” she says. She expects her doctoral program will keep her here until about 2007.

She decided to go on for her Ph.D. degree, focusing on security issues, after teaching CSC 405: Introduction to Computer Security while a computer science master’s degree student in the department. Starr designed and continues to teach the course, and has also taught CSC 441, Business Data Communications and Networking. In January, she also became president of the Women in Computer Science organization at NC State.

Starr said she appreciates the encouragement and guidance she’s had as she started her Ph.D. program, especially from her advisor Peng Ning, assistant professor who leads an intrusion detection and network security group, as well as Robert Funderlic, professor, and Martin Duhlberg, a December 2003 Ph.D. graduate who now is associate director of the Computer Programming Certificate program offered through Engineering Online and adjunct assistant professor of computer science.

While she thinks she has the mindset to run her own business, Starr said she also feels she is “wired to teach people” and to share from her own experience things “that may make their lives easier.”

Her interest in helping others is reflected in her role as WICS president, where she aims to encourage women students in computer science form a supportive network. She herself is benefiting from a network of women doctoral candidates formed recently by the CRA-W, the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research.

Before coming to NC State, Starr had gained considerable experience in engineering and computer science. In addition to her freshman co-op experience while at The Georgia Institute of Technology, she was an intern and systems support specialist in the information technology office. After graduating, she held two positions in industry, with Sun Microsystems in Atlanta and Check Point Software Technologies in Cary, and was a systems programmer at NC State’s Department of Computer Science after earning her master’s degree in computer science at NC State.

Starr’s interest in graduate studies in computer science was strengthened when she accepted an invitation to sit in on a class that Annie Antón, now associate professor of software engineering at NC State’s Department of Computer Science, had just started teaching. Knowing she was ready for a career change, Starr began sitting in on classes whenever she could; being in the classroom helped her decide to go to graduate school full time.

Just as Antón encouraged her to study computer science at NC State, Starr passes along her enthusiasm for the program to others. “The program here is on the upswing,” Starr says. “We have a lot of new, talented faculty and they're raising the quality of our program. We have a lot of outstanding students and opportunities for excellence.” She ends with a caveat: “It's all up to how hard you want to work.”

Starr is also quick to say that the academic experience is not all about work. As WICS president, she hosted a semester kickoff dinner that drew about 50 computer science majors – both women and men – from freshman through Ph.D. Weekly lunch sessions have also proven popular. Starr now is working with her team of officers to develop networking and other programs and opportunities for WICS members.

“We're kind of young (as an organization), but I must say it was impressive to see so many women at our kick off dinner at the beginning of the semester,” Starr says. “We're not used to seeing so many of us in the same room!”

WICS members at lunch meeting at Venture III.Starr accepted the role of WICS president, she says, because, “There is a clear need for an organization to address the unique needs of women in our department.”

“Some of us arrive in computer science with minimal encouragement and thrive on the challenge in spite of some social and cultural quirks in the area.” As a result, she says, “A lot of women are missing out on careers in CS and the area is suffering from a lack of diversity.”

Corporations also see the value of encouraging greater diversity in the computer science workforce, and have been supporting the WICS program by contributions through the computer science department’s ePartners Program. WICS is now considering establishing an endowment to assure funds for future programs and possibly lead to scholarships for women students.

WICS also plans to expand its programs and activities lineup, and recently collaborated with the NC State chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery for a joint social held Friday, February 13.

Such events reflect Starr’s call to action for all students wanting to get the most out of their academic experience: “Networking! CS doesn't mean anti-social,” she says.

“You learn lots of ins and outs of academic life from your fellow students. We have a lot of campus organizations for computer-inclined folks. As part of the PackMUG student organization, for example, I ran guest check-in for 400+ people for computer pioneer Steve Wozniak's speaking event and even hosted Woz and the event committee at my house!”

She also encourages students to make time for competitions that challenge their skills and enable them to meet others in the field. “I had a blast with the Capture the Flag team in the competition run by University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) last December,” she says. “We placed fourth!”

Related stories:
Capture the Flag
CRA-W women's doctoral cohort participant reflections

- rzewnicki -

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