When Ana-Maria Constantin arrived at Harvard in 2012, she was an astrophysics major passionate about her research. But after taking her first computer science classes, she realized the direct impact she could have on the world by building technical products. She knew she had to switch her concentration to computer science, but she found programming intimidating.
That’s when she joined the Harvard Women in Computer Science organization, where she met some of her closest friends. One of them, JN Fang ’16, got Ana on board to develop a conference for women engineers who code, WECode, in 2014. After a successful first edition ran by her friend JN, Ana-Maria co-chaired the 2nd edition of the conference alongside her friends Amna Hashmi ’16 and Emi Nietfeld ‘15, securing the support of industry giants such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google. In its first year, WECode welcomed 350 collegiate coders from around the country, and in the second year it doubled in size!
Growing up in a small town in Romania, this inspiring Harvard senior developed a passion for physics and mathematics which was passed down from four generations of her family members, most of whom were also involved in the STEM fields. From them, the collegiette learned to appreciate the simple things in life and to work hard to change things for the better. As a female engineer, she wants to help solve the problems people have in her home country, and make a positive contribution to the world—a mission she has clearly already embarked on.
And beyond engineering? Ana-Maria is co-president of one of the largest student group on campus, the Harvard Woodbridge International Society, which advocates for diversity and international students’ rights. With the Woodbridge board members, the collegiette is developing an International Students Forum, to inspire great global leaders and educate her peers on important international issues. For the very first ISF, the Woodbridge Society is hoping to welcome 500 attendees!
Name: Ana-Maria Constantin
College: Harvard University
Major(s): Computer Science and Astrophysics (Joint Degree), French Language Citation
Graduation Year: 2016
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania
Her Campus: What do you think is the biggest factor that led you to where you are today?
Ana-Maria Constantin: Keeping an open mind, and learning to embrace the opportunities that came along. I had many moments of serendipity, and I was lucky enough to meet great people along my way, from whom I’ve learned the things I know today. On this note, one of the best aspects about being at Harvard is the diversity of our student body, as it fosters an environment in which one of the most precious types of learning is learning from one another, and about the different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds which we are coming from.
Last year, the Woodbridge International Society (umbrella association of all international students on campus) welcomed new members coming from 70 different countries, each of them with unique past experiences and new perspectives for our community. It has been rewarding to be a part of Woodbridge, since I have learned more things than I could have imagined by simply talking to my classmates and friends.
HC: What are your top goals and priorities post-graduation?
AMC: My biggest dream would be to work in the field of Quantum Computing and to contribute in a positive way to this area which would radically change computers and the internet world as we know it today. Working in a team that is building such a computer is a rare opportunity, which I would love to embrace. Aside from that, I want to devote time to the cybersecurity field and to use my programming skills in order to solve problems such as fraud or attacks in the virtual world.
What fundamentally drives my passion for technology is the idea of engineering new solutions for a better society—I would like to eventually start my own business, although that is more complicated for me as an international student, from a visa perspective. Thus, for the years immediately after graduation I am hoping to find a job that allows me to work on interesting problems and to have an impact. Eventually, I am also thinking about getting a Masters degree in computer science, and/or an MBA.
HC: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
AMC: “Be kind.” — I read it in a Kurt Vonnegut collection of essays the summer before my freshman year, and have thought of it ever since.
HC: What was the most difficult adaptation coming from Romania to Harvard, and how did you overcome it?
AMC: Conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit and from meters to miles and feet—and I’m not there yet! My American friends get very confused when I tell them that it was a very hot summer in New York City, and that we sometimes had temperatures above 35 degrees.
On a more serious note, I think there are many issues that international students are facing on American campuses, and I wish there was more conversation about them. Starting from always having to speak a foreign language and sometimes not being able to translate to your parents what you are doing on campus, to only seeing your family once or twice a year, and to having them call you either late at night or early morning such that time zone differences work for both of you, to being confused about how to celebrate Thanksgiving or the 4th of July weekend, and to the many other cultural differences which are unique to each individual coming from a particular country, being an international student can feel challenging in the beginning.
Earlier this year an article titled “Beyond Boston—Regional Diversity at Harvard” came up in our university newspaper and it included a big map of the United States and no mention about any other location outside the country. It was upsetting since it ignored 10% of the student population, as if we were non-existent. At the same time, being a foreigner is wonderful in so many other ways—you get to actually explore a new culture and feel part of it, and you meet people and make friends who in some ways become your family away from home. I couldn’t be more grateful about the chance of being here and having Harvard as my second home—it is a place which fosters intellectual curiosity, and every day spent here is an inspiration.
HC: Where can others learn more about WECode?
Iris is the associate editor at Her Campus. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in communications and gender studies, but was born and raised in France with an English mother. She enjoys country music, the color pink and pretending she has her life together. Iris was the style editor and LGBTQ+ editor for HC as an undergrad, and has interned for Cosmopolitan.com and goop. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @irisgoldsztajn, or check out her writing portfolio here.