Computer Science Summer Institute: Q&A with participants Adela and Jessica

Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI), a tech program for rising college freshman, just celebrated its 10th summer. To mark this milestone, today we’re featuring Adela and Jessica, two CSSI participants. We’re proud of how this program has impacted the hundreds of students who have experienced its magic, and hope you enjoy their stories. Read on!

Adela Chavez, Los Angeles CSSI participant

Despite facing many challenges, including homelessness, Adela has never stopped chasing her dreams. While balancing a job and caring for her siblings, she also began learning about computer science and exploring coding. In the future, she hopes to be a mentor to others with similarly difficult backgrounds.

Jessica Morales-Mendoza, Seattle CSSI participant
Jessica has overcome obstacles throughout her life, as well. Coming from a low-income household of seven, she has found time to not only care for many of her siblings, but to also participate in robotics and programming at her school. Going forward, her dream is to work for the FBI’s Cyber Security Unit.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I want to make an impact. I want to be the reason that someone gains the confidence to follow their dreams. I have gone through plenty of hardships in my life, whether it was having to work when I was just 15 years old to help alleviate family expenses, having to stay up all night to take care of my siblings while my mother and sister worked the graveyard shift, or even being homeless at times during my senior year. If it weren't for the people who believed in me and gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams, I don't think I would be here today.

I grew up in a low-income, immigrant household of seven in Los Angeles, CA. At the age of thirteen, due to a family circumstance, I had to mature and be the older sister when I was actually one of the youngest. My parents were depressed and had fallen into alcoholism, while my brother was struggling with drug addiction.

During that very difficult part of my life, I began participating in afterschool programs, including robotics and game jams hosted by my CS (computer science) teachers. I discovered that programming has a lot of purposes, from creating robots, bringing crazy ideas to life, stopping cyber crimes and more.

In the fall, I will begin attending California State University, Los Angeles. I am passionate about helping others succeed, especially those from tough financial situations or circumstances. Besides that, I am obsessed with aliens and UFOs!

What motivated you to apply to CSSI?
For me, it was when I realized that computer science provided a way for me to escape poverty and secure a career that I was interested in. I knew that this path would allow me to create programs that could provide help for those who need it.

However, going into CSSI, I wasn’t entirely sure if computer science was for me. I knew that it had many interesting aspects, but I wanted to get more hands-on experience before making a final decision. After the incredible experiences I had at CSSI, I am now 100% ready to dedicate myself to this field.

I actually found out about CSSI when I was applying to Google’s Generation Scholarship. After reading the program description, I was hooked! When I first applied, I didn’t really think I had a chance of getting accepted (imposter syndrome), but I’m so glad that I went ahead and applied anyway. If I hadn’t taken a chance on it, I would’ve missed out on so much.

What do you wish you’d known before you arrived at Google for CSSI?
That it’s okay to ask for help. Growing up, I was the first in my family to go beyond middle school and take difficult classes, so I was always forced to figure things out on my own. I wasn't used to asking for help or admitting when I didn't know what was going on.

When I came into this program and actually learned that asking for help is encouraged, I initially struggled to accept it, which might have prevented me from fully understanding what was being taught. Eventually, I realized that if I wanted to get the most out of the program, I had to start asking for help.

I wish I’d known how hard it would be to leave this amazing experience! The amount of tears falling from our faces when it was time to say our goodbyes demonstrated how much we had grown together. It was such a blessing to meet people with open minds and heartwarming love. We all had different stories and perspectives, but were so supportive of one another.

Can you tell us how the CSSI experience has impacted you?
This program has truly been a life-changing experience for me. Before this program, I didn't have any confidence in myself. I didn't think I was smart enough to do computer science. I didn't think that I would be able to create applications that could help people. I didn't think that I was able to present in front of an audience. But now I know that I can do all of these things and more. As long as I work smart, use all the resources at my disposal correctly, and build up my courage, I can do whatever I set my mind to.

At CSSI, I learned about imposter syndrome. What is that, you may ask? The feelings that make us feel unworthy, when in reality, we are qualified. Learning about this was huge for me, as I’ve often struggled with self-doubt.

I also gained communication skills, confidence, and of course, coding experience. Although my communication skills and confidence have a lot more to grow, this experience was a start that I feel really blessed to have enjoyed.

What are you going to miss most from your CSSI experience once you leave?
I'm going to miss feeling like a valued part of a company. Going back to my regular job will be hard—it's just not the same as Google.

I’m going to miss the family that was created at the beginning of this new path of my life. The people around me made me feel like I was at home and loved, which is something that I find really valuable.