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Tech-savvy grad sees coding as creative

By Ann Doss Helms
ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

With N.C. State University’s application deadline hours away, Gabrielle Roseboro turned on the family computer and saw nothing but a blue screen.

She used her iPad to finish the online application. Then she went to Best Buy to get a new hard drive – she talked her parents into upgrading to one with a terabyte of memory – opened up the computer and replaced the one that had failed. First, though, she touched a wooden desk to make sure no static electricity would cause problems, just as she’d learned in her computer engineering class at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology.

Roseboro’s confidence with computers makes her a rarity venturing into a male-dominated field. She’ll graduate Wednesday in the top five at Berry, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg magnet school specializing in the technical fields. Then she’ll report to N.C. State, where she plans a double major in computer science and computer engineering.

Roseboro says she fell in love with computers as a freshman, when she realized she had the mix of methodical thinking and creativity it takes to succeed: “If you just work really hard, you can accomplish anything.”

Roseboro’s parents – Gary Roseboro is a minister who works for Freightliner trucking company and Lisa Roseboro works in accounting – urged her to try the technology school. Both parents have faced layoffs during the recession, and they want their two daughters to have good career prospects. (Angelica, 12, is a student at Bradley Middle and considering a career in medicine.)

“Computers, they run everything,” Gary Roseboro says. “They don’t talk back. They don’t call in sick.”

Gabrielle Roseboro’s other interests are more typically feminine: Arts, ballet, singing in the church choir. She edited her school newspaper and rode in the 2011 Carrousel Parade as Miss Phillip O. Berry.

But she was hooked when she took her first programming class, learned Visual Basic and created a short animated clip of someone skateboarding down a hill. She signed up for classes in computer engineering, website design and database work. She learned Python and Java programming on her own time.

For a community service project, she taught Photoshop to adults. She enjoyed the experience, even though “I had to slow it down a bit” for a less tech-savvy generation.

Roseboro says she’s inspired by what she can do with programming, anything from creating a glittery web page for a ballet studio in class to, she hopes, someday helping biologists and geneticists solve major scientific riddles.

That’s exactly the focus N.C. State is taking to entice more women to consider careers in computers. With men outnumbering women by almost nine to one in computer sciences, the university is trying to recast the image “from one of programming and coding and a geeky kind of discipline to an enabler that helps people make a difference in a socially relevant way,” says Ken Tate, who works in outreach for the computer science department.

“We think this message is really appealing to females in particular,” he said.

At N.C. State, women make up about 11 percent of computer science students; national tallies get similar results. Tate said he doesn’t have specifics on race, but African-Americans are also underrepresented.

Educators and business leaders across the country are trying to bring more women and minorities in, to open good career opportunities to those groups and to boost the pool of talent that could help the United States compete globally.

Roseboro took part in a computer camp for girls that visited Microsoft’s south Charlotte campus. Her dream job, she says, would be to return there as an operating systems programmer.

At N.C. State, she’ll stay in a “WISE Village,” a dorm dedicated to Women in Science and Engineering.

“Being a woman in technology, there are always networks you can find,” she said. “You might feel out of place, but you’re not.”

Helms: 704-358-5033
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