CS Senior Spotlight: Maya Blumovitz

Maya BlumovitzNorthwestern Engineering’s Maya Blumovitz has an extensive computer science background. She began studying CS her second year of high school and, prior to joining Northwestern, she wrote C# and UNIX applications as a satellite operations manager.

Blumovitz graduates this fall with a combined BS/MS in computer science, a cognitive science minor through Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and a human-computer interaction certificate through the Center for Human-Computer Interaction + Design.

Blumovitz won a Northwestern CS Outstanding Senior award “for contributions to curriculum and leadership in the Northwestern CS community.” A Tech Ethics Fellow for COMP_SCI 111: Fundamentals of Computer Programming I, she helped launch the Northwestern Tech Ethics Initiative to prioritize the ethical dimensions of computer science and examine areas of ethics theory and research including responsible artificial intelligence (AI), disability and accessibility, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion. She collaborated with the team of Tech Ethics Mentors and Fellows and CS faculty members to develop ethics modules, lecture additions, and homework extensions for CS 111.

We asked her about her experiences at Northwestern Engineering, impactful collaborative experiences, and her advice for current students.

Why did you decide to pursue the CS major at McCormick?

I often try to think back to the first moment when I realized computer science was what I wanted to do, but it feels as though this passion has been ingrained in me from a very early age. Even during my elementary school years, I gravitated toward math and science — I loved the thrill of solving logic problems and the surge of fulfillment upon reaching a solution.

Having spent many years prior to college studying and working in computer science, it seemed to be the most natural choice for a major. I favored Northwestern and McCormick in particular because of the flexibility around pursuing other fields to receive a well-rounded education. I am so grateful that, while pursuing a degree in computer science, I was also able to complete a year of Mandarin Chinese; a whole sequence of mathematics, physics, and earth science; a minor in cognitive science (including courses in psychology, neuroscience, and learning sciences); a certificate in human-computer interaction, and so much more. I think that this interdisciplinary approach is what makes McCormick so special.

How did the McCormick curriculum help build a balanced, whole-brain ecosystem around your studies in CS?

What I loved about the McCormick curriculum is the whole-brain engineering approach. I genuinely enjoyed taking Design Thinking and Communication (DTC), public speaking, Engineering Analysis, and all the other courses that were part of the engineering degree.

Northwestern is invested in developing engineers who can understand the implications of their work, including the design process, user experience, ethical consequences, and scalability. I came into college believing that computer science was all about the back-end algorithms — using Python or Java to write functions that solve a problem — but through my exposure to design and human-computer interaction, I actually realized I like front-end development much more.

Some of my favorite courses — COMP_SCI 260, 460: Introduction to Law and Digital Technologies, COMP_SCI 397, 497: Wireless and Mobile Health, and COMP_SCI 396: Intro to Web Development — were those interdisciplinary courses that taught me to look at computer science more holistically and realize that programs don’t exist in a vacuum. They can have real world ramifications if we don’t write them properly.

What are some examples of collaborative or interdisciplinary experiences at Northwestern that were impactful to your education and research?

At the beginning of my senior year, I joined the new Computer Science Ethics Fellowship, and our goal was to integrate ethical content and pedagogy into the computer science curriculum. We started developing comprehensive ethics modules that are now being implemented in CS 111 and we’re continuously working with faculty to modify and improve upon them. I was pleasantly surprised with the agency and trust given to us by the professors, allowing us to shape the curriculum based on our insights and perspectives. I learn so much during every meeting we have — it's been incredibly inspiring to collaborate with like-minded individuals who share a common goal of shaping the future of technology in a responsible and ethical manner. I've really enjoyed deepening my understanding of how ethical considerations play a vital role in our society and applying this to other aspects of my academic and personal life.

Witnessing the tangible impact of our efforts has been truly rewarding. Through discussions and written reflections, our students are provided with a broader understanding of the ethical dimensions of coding and are encouraged to reflect on the societal implications of technology. It wholeheartedly brings me joy every time a student comes up to me to ask what they can do to be more involved with ethics.

I recently attended the “Technology Ethics eXchange of the NorthEast” conference at Harvard, which opened my eyes to the work being done in other institutions and instilled in me an even deeper sense of dedication to the domain. In the fall, I will continue working on CS 111 as the ethics head teaching assistant.

What skills or knowledge did you learn in the undergraduate program that you think will stay with you for a lifetime?

Aside from the inherent coding skills I acquired, one of the most valuable skills I developed is critical thinking. Through challenging coursework and collaborative projects, I was able to sharpen my ability to analyze complex problems, break them down into manageable components, and try to devise effective solutions.

Approaching challenges with a logical and analytical mindset will undoubtedly help me throughout my life, enabling me to tackle obstacles with confidence. My time at Northwestern helped me foster strong communication and interpersonal skills. Engaging in group projects, participating in discussions, and presenting my ideas to diverse audiences allowed me to refine my ability to work in teams and articulate my thoughts clearly. I appreciate these experiences just as much, if not more, than the technical lessons, since together they make a well-rounded individual. I think Northwestern does an incredible job preparing us for “real life.”

What's next? What are your short- and long-term plans/goals in terms of graduate studies and/or career path?

In the short-term, I am going to Seattle this summer for an internship at Microsoft, and will come back in the fall to finish my master’s degree in CS. After taking some time off to travel, I hope to join a team that’s building solutions for healthcare. I have always been passionate about medical technologies, and this was intensified as we went through the COVID-19 pandemic and rediscovered the importance of a well-functioning medical system. I realized that this field will allow me to have a substantial impact on society, while utilizing my strengths in functional problem-solving and creative programming. My goal is to be a manager in an organization that combines technology with medicine and works to create innovative solutions for people. I want a meaningful and impactful career where I interact daily with the people I am helping.

What advice do you have for current Northwestern CS students?

I would like to tell students, especially those that are just starting out now, that they shouldn’t feel pressure to do what they think everyone else is doing. For so long I thought I was ‘doing college wrong’ because I didn’t feel comfortable getting involved in Greek life and I didn’t find big friend groups that went out every night on weekends. I was much more interested in forming faculty connections, taking courses that challenged me, and exploring my passions for healthcare, ethics, and computer science. Don’t be afraid to follow your heart and to make college the experience you genuinely want to have. There isn’t a singular right way to do it.

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