Spotlight on CMDA Student Elizabeth Archer


Reflecting on the Program . . .

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What drew you to Virginia Tech?

I’m from Northern Virginia.  I’m a military brat, so I was born in New Jersey and I’ve lived a few other places, but I’ve spent most of my life in Virginia.  I chose Virginia Tech because I liked that it was a Senior Military College with a cadet and civilian population.  A lot of my friends from High School came to Virginia Tech and that had some influence on my decision to come here.  Overall, I liked the community that Virginia Tech had to offer and that was what really drew me here. 

What are you majoring in (primary, secondary, minors, concentrations, as applicable)?

I’m majoring in CMDA with a minor in Mathematics.  I’m also thinking about adding a minor in Leadership.

What, specifically, drew you to enrolling in CMDA?

I started my freshman year as a mathematics major, but I wasn’t sure if that was what I really wanted to do.  I knew I wanted to stick with something technical, but I didn’t know much about the other majors at Tech.  I also didn’t know what I would like or be good at.  I talked to a friend who was majoring in CMDA at the time.  She told me about CMDA and how relevant it was becoming.  I looked into what CMDA entailed and I was pretty intrigued by it.  At that time I was taking an intro computer science class and I enjoyed the small amount of statistics that I had done in high school.  I liked the idea that CMDA was a combination of math, computer science, and statistics, so by the beginning of my second semester at Virginia Tech I declared my major to be CMDA.

What has been your favorite part about the CMDA Program?

My favorite thing about the program is definitely the people, and how the CMDA department is a community.  Everyone has contributed to my success in the program: the other students, the advisors, the professors, and the teaching assistants.  You could walk into the CMDA lounge the night before a problem set is due for a class and there will be other students from your class there working on it.  You can ask someone you’ve never talked to about a problem and you can talk things out and work out the problem together.  The professors and TAs are always prepared to help everyone; when you show up to their office hours they make sure to help you with whatever confuses you.  The advisors are always sending us opportunities to use our CMDA skills in the real world.  They are so helpful when it comes to deciding what classes to take or when to take them based on our personal strengths.

What has been the most challenging part about the CMDA Program?

I think the most challenging part of CMDA for me was honing my Computer Science skills.  I had been doing math since I was in Kindergarten and I had seen statistics through other subjects.  However, I had never had any computer science.  I am very confident in my CS skills now, but at first I had a lot of trouble with the very simple beginner concepts.  But once I was able to learn the basics, the more advanced material wasn’t too bad at all!

How do you think CMDA differs from traditional Math, Statistics and Computer Science classes?

CMDA is great because you get to experience the same concepts, taught from a math, statistics, and computer science perspective.  Depending on the concept it could be theoretical or more straightforward depending on which subject is emphasized in that specific class.  For example, I am currently working with least squares models in both my math modeling class and my machine learning class.  We approach least squares differently in each class, from a linear algebra perspective in math modeling and a statistics perspective in machine learning.  I think it is really cool that we get to learn these common concepts from multiple perspectives. 

You have an exciting internship lined up for this summer. Can you tell us a little about it?

This summer I will be going to Rome, New York for a Cyber Security Boot Camp run by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Assured Information Security.  The internship will focus on Cyber Security and we will be given real-world problems to solve using our various technical skills.  I think that I will be able to use a lot of what I learned in my CMDA classes at this internship. 

You are a member of the VT Corps of Cadets. How do you balance that with your coursework?

The Corps of Cadets puts a big emphasis on academics.  As I have taken on leadership positions in the corps, which take up a lot of time, I consistently refer back to the studying and time-management skills that were taught to me when I was a freshman in the Corps. 

You will take the CMDA Capstone class this fall. If you could pick your own project to work on, what would it be?

I have become increasingly interested in Cyber Security.  If I could pick my own project, I would like to do something that could track and predict when cyber attacks would happen and where they might originate by a model created using data from prior cyber attacks. 

What are your career goals? Both short term and long term?

My short term goal is to commission into the Air Force and branch Cyber Space.  I know that the skills I’ve learned through CMDA will benefit me so much no matter where I end up in the Air Force.  I do not know how long I will be in the Air Force, but when I get out I hope to continue to use CMDA in my next job, whatever that may be.  My long term goal would be to use CMDA in some way, no matter where I end up. 

What impact do you hope to have on the world? How will your CMDA degree help you with this?

I think we are more at risk from cyber attacks today than ever before.  It’s my hope that through my work with the Air Force and possibly civilian companies afterwards that I can help defend the world from malicious cyber attacks.  I think that CMDA is incredibly helpful when it comes to predicting and tracking cyber attacks and it would heavily contribute to the impact I hope to have on the world. 

What are you most looking forward to after you graduate?

I am really looking forward to being on my own.  I have learned so much in my classes here at Tech, but I’ve also learned a lot of life skills from being on my own at school.  Although I’m not at home anymore I still feel like I am not completely independent in college.  So, I’m looking forward to having that complete independence once I graduate. 

What has been the highlight of your Hokie career so far?

I think the highlight of my Hokie career so far is all of the people I have met and the friends I have made.  I had the opportunity to join a sorority my sophomore year.  Since then, the friends I have made in Gamma Phi Beta along with the friends I’ve made in my classes and in the Corps of Cadets have made the campus feel much smaller.  I feel like I can’t walk through campus without seeing friendly faces everywhere I go.  I think the friendships I’ve made are irreplaceable and I’m so glad that I came to Virginia Tech!