STEM CONNECT: Software engineering major rises to challenges

Nicole Livingston. Photo credit: Craig Chandler, University Communication
Nicole Livingston. Photo credit: Craig Chandler, University Communication

by Tori Pedersen | Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education

Challenges accepted.

Whether pushing back against stereotypes or cynics, first-year University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Nicole Livingston never shies away from adversity.

While she is majoring in software engineering in the College of Engineering, Livingston recently decided to add a mathematics minor from the College of Arts and Sciences to her degree plans.

“I always really enjoyed math and exceled at it. I wanted to further challenge myself—and do something I love,” Livingston said.

As a member of Nebraska’s second cohort of STEM CONNECT Scholars, a grant funded by the National Science Foundation, Livingston will find support from 26 other students through this scholarship program. STEM CONNECT gives students who choose a STEM major the chance to work closely with faculty and peer mentors and join a community of students who share an interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Besides the 27 students at Nebraska, 12 students at Southeast Community College and nine at Western Nebraska Community College have been awarded STEM CONNECT scholarships.

Livingston first found her passion for coding when she attended a summer coding camp at a young age. She was instantly hooked.

Hailing from Spokane Valley, Washington, Livingston chose to attend Nebraska and pursue software engineering because of her mother, who studied electrical engineering at Nebraska and went on to get a master’s degree in computer science. Livingston’s mother now works as a system engineer.

Led by this example and her experience as a woman in STEM, Livingston strives to break the stereotypes of who can be successful in these fields.

“I have found myself more than a few times having to explain and almost argue with someone to convince them that I indeed am a part of my major,” Livingston said.

In past classes, she was no stranger to assumptions being made that she did not understand concepts—and her peers overexplaining in an attempt to be helpful.

“Whenever I would get told ‘you will never be able to succeed,’ or something similar, from anyone who was mistakenly convinced that because of my appearance or gender I would not be able to be successful in a STEM field, I would immediately remember my mother and how if she could do it, then so can I,” Livingston said.

This determination drives Livingston to overcome the stereotypes and challenges she faces and pursue her goals, while uplifting others along the way. Livingston tries to serve as a mentor to those around her, encouraging them in their individual abilities.

While Livingston is still exploring potential careers, after completion of her degree, she hopes to use her coding skills to positively impact the lives of others.

To those who are passionate about STEM but unsure of their ability to succeed in it, Livingston said, “It is hard work and may seem challenging at first but once you figure out the problem it is so worth it.”

About the author: This feature on Nicole Livingston was written by Tori Pedersen, a UNL junior majoring in agricultural leadership and education. She is working in the CSMCE as the communications associate.

Read more about the STEM CONNECT Scholars