Posted on March 21, 2023 by Chris Reichert

The College Tour
Jenelle Millison

Jenelle Millison

            Senior computer science major Jenelle Millison was one of twenty students recently featured on the Amazon Prime Video series “The College Tour.”

            “I felt very honored to be the person selected to give the outside world a glimpse into some of the possibilities through the School of Data Science,” Millison said.

            When she saw data science on the list of categories the show would be highlighting, Millison knew she had to apply. After being selected, she says she was given leeway to write her own script and choose filming locations, including exciting sneak peeks into San Pedro I, which was still under construction during filming. But even in the glamour of the spotlight, Millison still says she felt grateful for the chance to give back to the School of Data Science.

            “I’ve been fortunate enough to see the rise of the School of Data Science while at the university, and I felt like it was the right time and the right place for me to talk about my experience,” she said. “Especially for someone coming from out of state, coming to a university that was kind of foreign to me, I would never have imagined that I would have been in that spot four years ago, so it was kind of surreal, and I definitely just felt very grateful for it.”

            Indeed, four years ago Millison was actually drawn to UTSA for its reputation in cybersecurity. Possessing a strong sense of civic duty and a desire to serve others, Millison saw cybersecurity as a way to use her passion for mathematics and technology to help others. At that point, the freshman from Lakewood, Colorado, didn’t even know what data science was, just that she had always loved math and science. She remembers one day in elementary school when her class had a special visitor.

            “I got to talk to an actual rocket scientist, and he would show us some of the equations that he would do,” she recalls. “It was something that was challenging to me, but that’s why I found it intriguing.”

            In high school, Millison’s love of math and science continued to grow, and she found herself teaming up with a group of like-minded girls to become the first graduating class to have a majority of women in upper-division mathematics complete differential equations.

            “I feel especially fortunate because I was able to make friendships around math and science to the point where I and the other women who were interested were able to lift each other up,” Millison said.

            When she began studying at UTSA, Millison was delighted to find a similar sense of fellowship.

            “To build that community and find that same community I was so fortunate to grow up with in high school here was something that has been really special to me, as well as seeing how UTSA values the community of women in tech,” she said.

            Indeed, the community of women in tech would end up launching Millison on a new and unexpected course.

            “UTSA was really where I found my love for data science when I was welcomed by Dr. Amanda Fernandez into her lab to study computer vision,” she said. “Since then, my opportunities in the field have just grown.”

            “Grown” may be an understatement. In her four years at UTSA, Millison has been involved with The Association for Computing Machinery, serving in multiple roles including vice president and president. With the ACM, Millison has participated in UTSA’s hackathon, RowdyHacks, and helped organize the School of Data Science’s first every Rowdy Datathon in 2022, averaging over two events per year since she arrived at the school.

            Millison says these out-of-the-classroom events help to set UTSA and the School of Data Science apart from other programs.

            “When I compare with my friends at other universities, I think UTSA has some of the largest emphasis on experiential learning and the largest support for it as well,” she said. “UTSA’s emphasis on experiential learning and their support for it, both personal and financial,

is something that I think has gotten me to where I am today and is what sets me apart in being able to achieve my goals.”

            Millison’s courses have certainly prepared her well. Millison already has a job lined up after graduation with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. There she will be working on artificial intelligence projects that will impact not only healthcare, but also defense and national security, two of the domains Millison hoped to influence by studying cybersecurity.

            “I’m very excited to continue a path that has some research, and then also some application, and some contracts that need results, all in one,” she said.

            As graduation draws ever nearer, Millison can look back on her four years with UTSA and see how her experiences at the School of Data Science have ultimately brought her back to her beginnings. From starting as a freshman who had never heard of data science, entering – and failing – her first hackathon, to running the ACM and performing advanced research, Millison now finds herself in a position to mentor young students, much like herself.

            “I see it now coming full circle, as I’m telling other freshmen to get involved on campus, to go after that internship, to participate in that hackathon. I know that was something that was given to me by my community; even though there may be fewer women in this community, they’re still there,” she said.

            Now in this position of mentorship, able to give back to that community that helped her grow into the data scientist she is today, Millison’s offers this wisdom.

            “My advice to girls who are looking to enter the field of tech would be to dive in and find your tribe. Dive in. Say ‘yes’ to things,” she said. “If you go after every opportunity that you’re given, you’ll find your people and you’ll find these other women that you can rely on and then pass it forward in the future.”

— Chris Reichert