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When Emily Morse ’21 came to SUNY Potsdam as a theatre major who hated math, she never anticipated that the Potsdam family would one day help her find success in the computer science industry.

Taking Intro to Computing as an “easy math credit” during her freshman year led Morse to develop an interest in the computer science field. Now, as she enters her senior year, Morse is preparing to graduate with a major in computer science and a minor in applied mathematics. She also serves as the president of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) – the student-run computer science club on campus.

It wasn’t until Morse became involved with ACM as a sophomore that she began to appreciate the interconnected community of students, professors and alumni in the computer science department.

“We have a really warm, welcoming community, where if you try to get involved and you want to get involved, you can,” Morse shared. “The professors and ACM go out of their way to help students with resumes and to get internships and jobs. Between the Computer Science Alumni Board of Advisors meetings twice a year, ACM events and going to conferences, we get a lot of exposure to internship opportunities, job opportunities and resume building workshops.”

In the computer science major, each student must complete either an internship or a senior project for their capstone experience. Morse planned to complete a summer internship in 2020, but securing one amidst a global pandemic proved difficult. In the end, it was computer science alumni who made her internship possible.

“I emailed one of the alumni on the Board of Advisors – Jeff McGrath ’84 – and he immediately emailed me back,” Morse shared gratefully.

McGrath forwarded Morse’s resume to Laura Wessing ’15, a fellow Board of Advisors member who works at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Rome, NY. Wessing then forwarded the resume to the Griffiss Institute, a non-profit that coordinates an internship with AFRL.

Morse was selected for the internship and completed it remotely throughout the summer, working closely with her AFRL mentor, Collen Roller ’15 – yet another computer science alumnus. Morse is grateful for the many video conversations she had with Roller that expanded her knowledge of the field.

“Sometimes it’s him teaching me something random, but really important, about programming. Sometimes it’s him giving me advice in how to succeed in this industry and how to interview really well,” Morse shared, “and sometimes it’s just us talking about our experiences at SUNY Potsdam.”

As an intern, Morse worked to build a geocoding application for AFRL, a process that gave her hands-on experience to supplement the database systems course she is taking this fall. Her internship experience has proved invaluable and has prompted her to consider working at AFRL after graduation if the opportunity arises.

“At the very least, even if I don’t end up working at AFRL, I have learned new programming languages and a lot of different tools that I can use,” Morse explained. “I can definitely see myself doing this sort of job in the future because of this internship.”

In addition to McGrath, Wessing and Roller, Morse extends her gratitude to Haden Land ’84 – the computer science alumnus who established the scholarship that made Morse’s internship possible.

Morse applied for the Haden Land Endowed Scholarship after a conversation with Director of Experiential Education Toby White ’89. “I got on a video chat with Toby and we talked about which internship scholarships I would be eligible for, and he really encouraged me to apply for the Haden Land scholarship because they hadn’t given it out in a while and I was a perfect candidate.”

The Haden Land Endowed Scholarship is designated to support computer science students completing internships, with special consideration given to students who are also involved in the arts and those who have secured internships in the aerospace or defense industries.

“Receiving this scholarship means everything to me,” Morse said. “I can’t really work during the semester, and it’s not super safe to work anyway because of COVID-19. Having this extra money that I don’t have to spend on credits is really huge for me.”

Morse shares that receiving the scholarship has inspired her to encourage other students to apply for similar awards. “It’s really important to me to be able to recommend all of the scholarships to other people in the computer science department because I know that they sometimes don’t get awarded just because people don’t apply for them because they don’t know they exist.”

Whether sharing scholarship information, serving as a teaching assistant or leading ACM initiatives, Morse is committed to helping fellow computer science students because that is what upperclassmen, professors and alumni consistently did for her.

“I went through the same struggles, and I am so glad that I had someone to help me through them.”

To learn more about the impact of giving at SUNY Potsdam, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/giving/donorimpact

To learn more about the Department of Computer Science, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/depts/CS

Article by Alexis Donnelly '18, Photos by Jason Hunter