Coding something beautiful

Joelle Robinson ’18 combines passions for computer science and art

Photo/Mike Lovett

Blank screens don’t scare Joelle Robinson ’18. She thrives on the creative process. For Robinson, it’s all about building something from nothing, and making it effective and affecting, whether it’s a computer program or a new play. 

“I’m interested in the elaborate process we go through in order to make beautiful things — and make them work,” she says. “It’s long and laborious, but so rewarding.”

A first-year computer science major and theater minor, Robinson is a Science Posse Scholar from Queens, N.Y. She grew up with twin interests in art and science. In middle school, she was a member of an off-Broadway community theater group that wrote, designed and performed their own shows. After rehearsals, she would come home and watch the Science Channel with her father. 

In high school, Robinson became interested in computer programming as a way to combine her passions for engineering and art. As a junior, she was accepted into an intensive summer computer workshop run by the nonprofit Girls Who Code. The organization is focused on closing the gender and diversity gap in STEM fields, and offers courses in programming, robotics, web design and mobile development. It also connects young women with female mentors in the field. 

For the first time, Robinson, an African American, met women engineers who looked like her. 

“There are so few women — and even fewer women of my background — in engineering,” she says. “Meeting developers of color was empowering, and you need empowerment moments to get you through the long, hard process of becoming a computer scientist.” 

The program also promotes creativity and collaboration in coding, dispelling the stereotype of the socially awkward loner coder.  

“In a room full of girls, you could really see that coders have personalities and can create really cool and imaginative things,” Robinson says. “I could finally build and create websites that used design aesthetics inspired by art but also had that intuitiveness and logic from science and mathematics.”

After Girls Who Code, Robinson knew she wanted to go to a college where she could pursue both science and art. She was accepted into Brandeis’ Science Posse program, which has exposed her to fields she never explored before, like augmented reality and human-computer interaction. 

“The STEM Posse creates a culture of sharing ideas and sparking interests around all the sciences,” she says. “I know that aha moment of discovering what you want to do, and it’s fun to help other people discover theirs.”

Categories: Arts, Science and Technology, Student Life

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage