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Nelly Cheboi
More Than I Imagined Seniors reflect on accomplishments and look ahead

​Nelly Cheboi

Graduation year: 2016

Majors: Applied mathematics and computer science

Activities: Varsity cross country, varsity track & field, math and chemistry tutor

Internships: During the summer of 2015, I researched evolutionary robotics with Dr. Stonedahl in mathematics and computer science and worked on the Diffusion Monte Carlo Project supervised by Dr. Christoffel in chemistry.

Post-grad plans: I plan to attend graduate school for a master’s in software engineering.

Why Augustana?

Being an international student, I did not get a chance to visit the campus. I mostly relied on the Augie website. I did not have enough information when I picked Augustana four years ago, but to this day I know it was the best decision I have ever made. This is because I have had fun in the classroom, and the professors are very personable, intelligent and enthusiastic. Furthermore, the students are liberal and open-minded. Aside from academics, the coaches are phenomenal, and this is an exceptionally beautiful campus.

Are you where you thought you'd be four years ago?

No way. Four years ago back in Kenya, I had limited exposure to computers and now I can assemble a computer! After enrolling in an Introduction to Computer Science course as one of the requirements for my math major, I was intrigued by the potential embedded within even a few lines of coding. Ever since that class, I started taking more computer science courses just for fun, and my interest has been growing more passionate with each new discovery I have made. Augie has transformed me from knowing nothing about computers to being able to develop software and mobile apps, design web pages and have an extensive understanding of how computers function.

Who helped you?

My professors. After taking CSC 211 my junior year, Dr. Dungan convinced me to major in computer science. I already had the chemistry and applied mathematics majors, and I told her that I would have too many Senior Inquiries, and she responded: “It is just designing an Android app for computer science.” Since it was already on paper that I was a computer science major, I put more effort into learning and exploring the field, taking any projects that came my way. It was set in stone that I would be a computer science major after doing the evolutionary robotics project with Dr. Stonedahl. The professors made it their job to nurture the talent I never knew I had and get me even more excited by what my future holds in the field of computer science, regardless of such a late introduction to it.

A peak experience?

I come from a very humble background. I grew up in a house that had been condemned for years. The roof would leak during rainy days or fly away during windy days. There were no sanitation facilities whatsoever, and sometimes we would go for days without food. Things started to change when I came to Augustana and applied for their work-study program. I was able to support my family by getting them a better place to live. The peak of my experience was when I decided to create a source of income for my family by building a school for my elder sister, who has a diploma in elementary education. With the help of Augie staff who actively helped me find donations and work-study programs, I was able to fund the building of the school. Now my family has a constant source of income and a very habitable apartment, not to mention that the children of that community are getting a liberal arts education.

What has surprised you?

I knew I was one with a curious mind, but I never knew just how much. When I was juggling three majors, athletics, student ambassador and career ambassador positions, and research projects, I realized just how much of a hard worker I am. Through Augustana I discovered my new favorite pastime, which is writing computer codes while listening to TED Talks.

How did you use your Augie Choice?

I used my Augie Choice the summer of junior year when I was doing my research in quantum chemistry. It was unpaid, so I used Augie Choice as my stipend. With this stipend, I started the school back in Kenya for my sister.

What will you miss the most?

I will miss constantly being around the people of the Augie community, whose company I do not only enjoy, but who challenged me to grow every day.

Advice for the Class of 2020?

There is a place for everyone here at Augustana — it may be a sport, Greek life, club or so on. These venues will help you grow and learn more about yourself than you ever imagined. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it gets you out of your comfort zone. By pushing our limits and conquering our fears, we become great at anything we set our mind to. Four years is so short — make it worthwhile.

"Nelly embodies the exploration and growth possible at a liberal arts institution, studying a wide variety of subjects (some in great depth) before discovering her passion for computer science during her junior year. Nelly's cheerful positive attitude brightens the classroom, and she doesn't hesitate to ask questions, demonstrating her naturally inquisitive mind. I also had the pleasure of collaborating with Nelly on a research project last summer, which involved building/programming a team of robots to cooperatively search for targets. Given her combination of skills and self-confidence, I expect an exciting future awaits."

— Dr. Forrest Stonedahl, assistant professor, computer science

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