Computer science and community

by Ted Kincaid, College of Engineering  |   

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International student Borochingua Zorigtbaatar in the UAA Spine. (Photo by Ted Kincaid / UAA College of Engineering)

Borochingua Zorigtbaatar, or Boro for short, is a computer science and engineering student in the College of Engineering program who came to Alaska from Mongolia.

“Alaska is a really welcoming place,” she said. “Before I came here, I heard that Alaskans are some of the nicest Americans. Now I can tell that this is true.”

Boro started learning English at 17. Her family supported her desire to transfer to a high school that would give her the tools to upgrade her education and expand her opportunities. She moved to Seattle to begin college and found American culture surprisingly familiar.

“Maybe because of social media or because it is the 21st century, it wasn’t as big a shock as I expected,” she said. The weather, on the other hand, proved to be a challenge. Gloomy Seattle skies were a far cry from the sunshine Zorigtbaatar was used to in her part of Mongolia. After completing her first year of college, a friend messaged Zorigtbaatar when she discovered that Erdenet, her hometown in Mongolia, was part of a sister city program at UAA, enabling international students to pay the in-state tuition rate.

“As a student, every dollar matters,” Zorigtbaatar said. “So I got on a plane to Alaska.”

After arriving, she found additional opportunities at UAA to support her educational goals. Due to her involvement in student life, Zorigtbaatar landed several prestigious scholarships over the years, awards through the UAA Multicultural Center and other leadership and community service awards. “Between the scholarships, in-state tuition and my student jobs, it has really helped make college affordable,” Boro said.

One of Zorigtbaatar’s most meaningful experiences at UAA has been her involvement in clubs, both as a member of the Society of Women Engineers and as a leader of the Computer Science (CS) Club. Like many other informal organizations, the CS Club lost momentum during the pandemic.

"Last year, the CS Club was completely dead," Zorigtbaatar said. But she worked with some peers and professors to revive it. "We wanted to bring it back to help computer science students feel more connected to each other. We wanted students to have a place where they could engage in extracurricular activities, a place where they could network and have more information about potential jobs."

Of course, life as an international student isn’t perfect. While Alaskans may pride themselves on a strong sense of community, this can have a negative effect on those who come from outside the state.

Zorigtbaatar said she'd had trouble entering professional spaces, seeing companies hire staff and interns almost exclusively from Alaska. While she recognizes logistical hurdles to hiring international candidates, Zorigtbaatar wants more companies to put forward the effort to open their doors to international candidates like her. She believes this would help Alaska achieve its full potential.

“Alaska is experiencing a sort of social crisis,” she said. “A lot of people are leaving the state, but very few are moving in. International students could help to fill that gap.”

That said, she has highly valued her time studying computer science at UAA. She has gained a broad knowledge base, learning about data structures, coding, hardware and more. Notably, she has also gained the capacity to keep up with her ever-changing field.

“In computer science, you never know what the next big thing is going to be,” Zorigtbaatar said. “You do not know what it is going to be like in one or two years, let alone in five or 10. So you have to always keep learning.”

She has some advice for incoming computer science students based on her experience: “Be resourceful — apply for scholarships, find a campus job, get to know your classmates and your professors. And, of course, join the Computer Science Club!”

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