In her first year at CU Boulder, Elizabeth Eyeson (CompSci'23) said she realized that the Department of Computer Science did not have a high quality space for office hours or studying.
"I had my first office hours ever in the old aerospace wing [before the wing's renovation] and remember being shocked by the state of it. All I could think was, why are we having office hours in this dim, cramped and outdated space," Eyeson said.
She then saw the opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students on solutions for the department through joining the Computer Science Departmental Action Team.
"I thought, maybe if I joined the team, we could get a better study space," she said.
But Eyeson did more than just slightly improve the space, said Department Chair Ken Anderson. "She was a leader in redesigning the lab as a more welcoming and inclusive environment."
Today, the completely remodeled Computer Science Education Lab has rooms for office hours and desks where, any day of the week, you can see students studying and collaborating.
The space also has a digital mural created in collaboration with local artist Graham Fee and faculty member Elisabeth Stade. Future plans for the space include dedicating the study rooms to diverse pioneers in the field and an art installation in honor of Professor Mike Eisenberg.
"The benefits of her hard work will be felt for years to come," Anderson said.
Throughout her time at CU Boulder, Eyeson has emerged again and again as a community leader, proactive scholar and connective force, leading her to be recognized as the spring 2023 Outstanding Undergraduate of the College of Engineering and Applied Science and Colorado Engineering Council Silver Medal finalist.
In her first year, Eyeson was invited to her first meeting of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
"Dr. Tanya Ennis told me about NSBE, when I first visited CU," Eyeson said.
Ennis, the former director of the Broadening Opportunities through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center and CU Boulder NSBE advisor, said she remembered meeting Eyeson.
"She was so shy and trying to understand how she would fit. I told her about NSBE and about BOLD, and I started seeing her in the center every day," Ennis said.
"Joining NSBE meant being part of something bigger than myself. It is a community of people who are passionate about engineering, science and ensuring that all voices are heard regardless of background," Eyeson said.
NSBE quickly became a large part of Eyeson's life, and it helped her learn about project management, leadership, networking and professionalism.
Throughout her time with NSBE, Eyeson has held a variety of roles including membership chair, vice president and interim president, among others. Beyond her current role as the vice president of CU NSBE, Eyeson is also active on the regional and national level of NSBE as the 22-23 Region VI vice chairperson and incoming 23-24 Region VI chairperson.
Region VI oversees 87 chapters with over 1,700 members across the western United States and abroad. She managed the board behind the 2022 Regional Leadership Conference in Beaverton, Oregon, and the 2022 Fall Regional Conference in Los Angeles, which attracted hundreds of members ranging from pre-collegiate to professional, across the western United States and abroad.
"NSBE has helped me grow as a leader and a role model for others. I never would have imagined so many underclassmen would come to me for advice. It has been so rewarding to help support people who are in a similar spot as I was years ago," she said.
Eyeson said she is grateful for the support she has had from the BOLD Center.
"I was seeking people who could relate to my experience as a Black woman in computer science. A lot of my friendships were made through BOLD and BOLD student societies like CU Women In Computing and NSBE. I have had the privilege to attend multiple conferences and volunteer among other great experiences. In the BOLD Center, we are all working together towards becoming tomorrow's engineers and scientists," Eyeson said.
She added that though students can feel like they are on their own, "There are other people, it's a matter of finding them. If Dr. Ennis hadn't invited me to that first NSBE meeting, I would never have been able to get involved as I have, and to extend that to students coming after me," she said.
Eyeson said that applying her skills beyond the classroom has been essential to her success.
In addition to being a Norlin and BOLD Scholar, Eyeson was nominated to become a National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) Scholar through the BOLD Center.
This led her to being selected for the inaugural Google NACME Applied Machine Learning Intensive (AMLI), where over the course of eight weeks, Eyeson and her team developed a neural network to help align an AI agent’s actions with human norms and values.
"Elizabeth’s project was so impressive that it was open-sourced and highlighted as a featured project," said her advisor and mentor, University of Kentucky professor Corey Baker. "She constantly pushed herself to learn."
Eyeson said she applied to every research and internship opportunity she could find. One of these was the National Institute of Standards and Technology Professional Research Experience Program. When that opportunity was transitioned to online in summer 2020 due to the pandemic, Eyeson still persisted.
She became a published academic author with the national lab and continues to work for them today, developing software for their Public Safety Communications Research division as part of the Mission Critical Voice group.
Building on her success in AMLI, and her experiences from NIST and Autodesk, Eyeson recently completed her computer science capstone project.
She worked with her team and sponsor Enertiv to create a neural network to optimize the startup and shutdown of commercial HVAC systems and reduce stakeholders’ carbon footprints.
"When I think of Elizabeth, I think of consistent elevation," Ennis commented. "She would go to office hours with a list of questions and engage in learning discussions. Her attitude was very much towards consistently building upon her prior learning experiences. She refused to get stuck."
Eyeson said that throughout her work as a community leader and a scholar, she seeks places where she can apply her skills and grow at the same time. "If you see a problem, find the opportunity to tackle it. You never know, you may be the one to solve it," Eyeson said.
Eyeson plans to pursue a PhD in computer science at the University of California Los Angeles with a research focus at the intersection of healthcare and computation.