Fearless Focus

Penn State Computer Science and Engineering student Ria Bhatia took a chance on her dream company and was accepted to the Explore Microsoft summer program as a first-year student. She'll return this summer as a project management intern.

When Engineering student Ria Bhatia came to Penn State as a first-year student, she already knew that she wanted to work for Microsoft. But, while some first-year students wait until their sophomore or junior years to begin pursuing their dream internships and jobs, Bhatia—a Computer Science major—took the plunge early. 

"Penn State is great because we have all these career fairs, and Microsoft employees and recruiters came to our fair in the fall at the Bryce Jordan Center," she says. 

Sophomore Ria Bhatia

Ria Bhatia

Second-year computer science and engineering student Ria Bhatia earned a coveted spot in the Explore Microsoft Program last summer by taking initiative and being proactive. Bhatia, who worked as an open-source technology developer, said it is important to be confident and “know your stuff” to make it in this field.

Image: Cate Hansberry

But when she didn't hear back right away after leaving her resume with recruiters that day, she took matters into her own hands.

"I figured that they probably hire people who really want it, and if I really wanted it, I should just go for it." 

Going for it paid off, and Bhatia was selected for the Explore Microsoft Program. The twelve-week program at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, provides participants—dubbed 'Explorers'—with an opportunity to experience various areas of the company, including project management and software design. 

"I never thought I could put myself at that level, but with what I've learned at Penn State, I did."—Ria Bhatia 

Though she was nervous at first, the experience turned out to be overwhelmingly positive for Bhatia. Placed in the Cloud and Enterprise unit, she learned much about up and coming industry technologies and met a diverse group of fellow Explorers and interns. 

"I never thought I could put myself at that level, but with what I've learned at Penn State, I did." 

Bhatia is confident now that she chose the right major for her, but she didn't grow up wanting to go into computer science. She discovered it her senior year of high school, and she was hooked. 

"With computer science, it was something I actually wanted to work towards and do really well at," she says. "I found myself working a lot harder at it than I did in other classes." 

"The [Women in Engineering] program really brings first-year women in and shows them they have a support group, that you're not in it alone."—Ria Bhatia 

And one of the things that drew her to Penn State was the University's good reputation for computer science education and engineering in general.

In the College of Engineering, she takes some tough classes, but she gets support at every turn. She got involved with the Women in Engineering Program right away, and the mentorship she received from fellow students through the program gave her a built-in support structure. 

"The program really brings first-year women in and shows them they have a support group, that you're not in it alone," she says. "When you have so many women around you doing the same thing, you know you can do it, and you have people you can go to for help." 

"[Engineering isn't] just math and numbers; you're making huge decisions for how people are living, and you're impacting the world."—Ria Bhatia

In addition to her Computer Science and Engineering major, Bhatia is pursuing two minors: Mathematics and Engineering Leadership Development (ELD), a minor that helps prepare motivated students for leadership roles in their chosen fields.

"The ELD minor is great because I want to have that technical side but also be a people person," she says. "The minor has given me such a different outlook on engineering. It's not just math and numbers; you're making huge decisions for how people are living, and you're impacting the world." 

As an Explorer, Bhatia has already taken her first step toward becoming a leader in her field. She'll return to Microsoft this summer as an intern in project management. 

About the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

The Computer Science and Engineering major is part of the newly established School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The new school will allow greater access to courses offered by both the electrical engineering and the computer science and engineering departments, as well as collaborative research in fields such as robotics, computer vision, cyber physical systems, machine learning, and embedded systems. 

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering was created in 1993 with the merger of the computer engineering program and the computer science department. The department offers B.S. degrees in both computer engineering and computer science through the College of Engineering. There are more than 450 undergraduate students and 150 graduate students enrolled in the department, along with 43 faculty members.