Michigan Tech Student Wins Google Scholarship

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Michigan Technological University student Alicia Thorsen has been awarded a 2007 Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship.

The $10,000 scholarship is given to 20 outstanding female undergraduate and graduate students nationwide who are completing degrees in computer science and related fields. Thorsen expects to receive her PhD in Computer Science in 2008.

The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and Google Inc. created the highly competitive and prestigious scholarships to honor the legacy of Anita Borg and her efforts to encourage women to pursue careers in computer science and technology.

"The Anita Borg Scholarship is a living testament to Anita's vision of supporting and recognizing exceptional women in computer science and technology," said Telle Whitney, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute. "We are pleased that together with Google, we can help these outstanding young women continue in their chosen fields."

Thorsen researches parallel algorithms, which are used to link together multiple computers and speed up computations. “Parallel computing allows us to solve much bigger problems than we could in the past,” Thorsen says.

She was valedictorian of her graduating class at Fayetteville State University, earning a 4.0 grade point average. She completed an MS in Computer Science at Michigan Tech in 2006 and was also a visiting research scholar at the University of Bergen, in Norway.

In addition to teaching computer science classes at Michigan Tech, Thorsen has led Summer Youth programs for high school students interested in computer science and teaches aerobics classes.

This is Thorsen’s second attempt at a Borg Scholarship. She applied in 2005-06 and was amazed when she made it to the rank of a finalist. “I was completely shocked,” she said. “But I thought it was better to try and fail than not do it at all.”
At that point, she reasoned that the following year she just might make it to the top of the heap.

“ I met other winners and finalists and found they were people just like me,” Thorsen said. “It built my confidence. So I thought, if I put a little more effort into it, I could get it.”

Her second try paid off, much to the delight of her department. Computer Science Chair Linda Ott contributed to Thorsen’s application for the Borg Scholarship.

“She is a neat person,” Ott said. “Alicia has gone out of her way to encourage other women to pursue computer science. In particular, she really excited the high school girls who enrolled in her Summer Youth program.”

Thorsen defies the stereotypes associated with her field of study. “She doesn’t play video games, she’s married, she’s teaching aerobics—and she loves computer science,” Ott said. “And she’s a wonderful mentor. I hope she goes into academia; she’d be great.”

“I am pretty girly--girly and proud,” Thorsen laughs. Life as a university professor, however, may have to wait. “When I graduate, I want to work in industry to get some practical, hands-on experience,” she says. Later, she may return to academia or to a research institute.

For the 2006-2007 academic year, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology received over 250 scholarship applications from students at 115 different schools across the country. Thorsen is the only winner from a Michigan university. Students from Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon and the Georgia Institute of Technology were among the winners.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.