I have been interested in solving problems since a very young age. I used to complete massive puzzles
with my mom when I was only a child of 7 or 8 and I was most intrigued by the special steps my mom
always took to solve the puzzles. First, she would find the edge pieces (a very common start for most
puzzlers), but then she did something else. She would start putting all the pieces in piles of similar
colors. I couldn't figure out why, until I realized that she was dividing the puzzle into smaller puzzles.
The first puzzle is find the edge pieces, then find the colors, then a final puzzle: find which pieces of
each color actually fits. This turned a 2000 piece puzzle into 6 or 7 smaller puzzles, each of which is easier
to solve than the first (by reduction of possible unsolved pieces).
I've also always been a gamer. This doesn't mean I sat up all ends of the night on Super Mario Bros. (although,
I did in my later years as a teenager), but it did mean that I never neglected family game night! We would spend
hours on The Farming Game,
Don't Go To Jail,
and my personal favorite: Scotland Yard.
I would always be the spy and my family would be the detectives searching London for me. 9 times out of 10, I would win
by using false flags to misdirect them toward a different landing zone so they would be on the entire opposite side of
London while I enjoyed total freedom and immunity from the long arm of the law.
Both of these scenarios taught me a great deal about how to win games and solve large puzzles. I think this is what really
got me into Computer Science, because I saw it as a huge opportunity to make money while still enjoying the same tasks of
solving problems in an elegant fashion. No matter what solution I found, there was always a better or more robust solution
to that very same problem.
When I first started my education path toward Computer Science, I was perplexed by the complexity of this daunting endeavor.
Nothing made sense to me, because it was learning a new language. I had taken foreign languages before (German and Spanish)
and I excelled at picking up the different syntax and grammar quickly and fluently. Why could I not understand this new language
of computation? I ended up taking a Psychology 101 course and doing quite well. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to head down
the path of Psychology. I later learned that people who test well in a path toward CS also tend to be the same people who enjoy
Psych. This makes sense to me because I wanted to learn how to solve problems in complex frameworks and I started seeing connections
between computers and the brain as I delved into greater detail in my Biological Psychology and Cognitive Psychology courses. As I
went further into my degree in Psychology, I ended up returning to Computer Science to take some courses for undergraduate credit
and I became even more enthralled with the aspects of machine learning and data mining, as well as human-computer interaction. I had
toyed around with media arts as well, but it quickly became too easy once I learned more in Computer Science. I needed a challenge
and a dynamic environment for my brain to prune properly. I made the decision to double major in Computer Science and Psychology about
half way through my education.
When I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology, I was easily convinced by Dr. Joel Henry to complete an M.S. in Computer Science
rather than settle for two undergraduate degrees. It wasn't a difficult decision to make because I had already grown to love the faculty
in the Computer Science department and felt like I had a home there. I was a little apprehensive at first by the lack of female occupancy,
but I managed to overcome this hurdle by taking additional courses in Psychology and Math. I completed my minor in Math and Media Arts
with little difficulty and now have a full appreciation for the tedious nature of developing animations and film, as well as a newfound
addiction to mathematics.
I have been enjoying the past few years here in Missoula, Montana and hope to make it a home for a good amount of time. If I do move, Missoula
will always hold a special place in my heart and (if I'm lucky) I will end up retiring here. If all goes according to plan, Montana will be my
mid-winter home for a few months of snow sports and my summer home when it gets nice enough to camp, hunt, and fish.
I want to personally thank the following committee members for appearing for my portfolio defense. You have allowed me to complete my graduate
degree successfully and teach me many important programming and mathematical techniques along the way. Without you, my life and career would
be very different!