By Maya RectorKate Bell is a part of the Berkeley MEng class of 2018. Kate’s concentration is in EECS (electrical engineering and computer science), however her background is not that of a typical engineer. With a background in art and a history of being a self-taught software engineer for several years, Kate decided to strengthen her skills by attending the Fung Institute, where she could build upon what she has already learned from her hybrid background. Ultimately, her unconventional start combined with her love of art means that she doesn’t always fit the mold, and she doesn’t necessarily feel like she has to. In many ways, her unique background sets her apart — and it gives her a fresh perspective on the field of engineering.
What inspired you to join the MEng program?I’d been working as a software engineer for a number of years, but I really felt like I missed out on the opportunity to study computer science in an academic context. I wanted to deepen my knowledge. I also saw school as a way to bring together the various aspects of my hybrid background. The MEng program offered me a way to bring my interest in art into conversation with my interest in computer science. It also afforded me the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds in the field — that alone was enough for me.
How has your artistic background been an asset when it comes to studying engineering?I tend to approach problems with a slightly different mindset. My hybrid background allows me to simultaneously dial into engineering details and keep the big picture context of my work in mind. I have a deep fascination with how my work lives and breathes in the world. I don’t see technology as a passive construction. Rather, the work I do and the work I see generated by peers seems to me a living extension of our perspectives and motivations.
I have a deep fascination with how my work lives and breathes in the world. I don’t see technology as a passive construction. Rather, the work I do and the work I see generated by peers seems to me a living extension of our perspectives and motivations.
Have there been any challenges because of it?Of course. My path to engineering has not been traditional. But, unlike a lot of self-trained hacker-types, I believe in the value of a traditional computer science education. I often come across gaps in my knowledge that are a direct result of my not having an undergraduate degree in CS. I’m used to learning on my feet, but it’s still a challenge at times.
What are your plans after graduation?Well, it’s still up in the air. But there seems to be increasing opportunities for weirdos like me to both be engineers and contribute to an interdisciplinary team in a creative capacity. The plan is to run full steam towards organizations/companies that value that sort of multidimensionality.
There seems to be increasing opportunities for weirdos like me to both be engineers and contribute to an interdisciplinary team in a creative capacity.
Do you have any advice/tips for prospective students who are considering an engineering degree from the Berkeley MEng program?There is room for you. That is something that I’m learning more and more with each day. Berkeley has one of the best engineering departments in the country, but surprisingly this hasn’t resulted in a pervasive sense of institutional arrogance and rigidity — professors seem genuinely open and curious to work with students who don’t fit a typical mold.
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