For many students, university can be more than just an academic experience. For Shanna Hollingworth, it was a way to build community and reconnect with her heritage.
Hollingworth will graduate with an honours degree in computer science and a minor in data science. She says she chose computer science because it was a good middle ground between the arts and applied mathematics she loved doing in high school.
“I felt like computer science met all my requirements, the logical problem-solving side of things and then the creative side where I get to build something,” she explains.
One of the things she was able to build during her time at UCalgary was the Women in Computer Science Club. She co-founded the club and served as its first president from 2020 to 2022. She says:
“It was really important for me to be involved because I would be in a computer science lecture with 50 to 75 people in it, and I’d look around and see maybe four other girls.”
According to statistics, women in second- or third-year computer science have a high dropout rate because there is a lack of support and community. Computer science is also one of the highest transfer-in degrees for women, meaning they find it later in life or later in their degrees.
“Those stats say to me we need to start creating a community to support women already in the field and need to make some friends, as well as support people who find it later in life and may not know where to start,” Hollingworth says.
A time to reconnect with her heritage
She also spent much of her degree reconnecting with her heritage, including taking Mandarin courses, doing an exchange in Singapore, and becoming the president of the Chinese Language Conversation Club.
“My family is from Malaysia, and I lived there until I was nine,” she says. “When we came to Canada, I forgot all of my Chinese and lost a lot of my specific memories of Malaysia regarding the culture, even down to the names of dishes. This made it harder to feel connected to my heritage or feel like I even had a right to claim it.”
Arriving on campus, Hollingworth was able to connect with others in the Asian community and re-learn Mandarin, and she says this made her feel more confident in her own identity.
In particular, her time with the Chinese Language Conversation Club allowed her to achieve the goals she wanted to achieve when it came to learning the language.
Hollingworth served as the VP of events and academic for the club, meaning she would plan weekly events to teach Chinese, which she says forced her to really learn the language and improve. She would go on to become president of the club.
“It helped me to build a lot of confidence in who I was and what I was capable of,” she says.
Musical theatre for fun
Hollingworth was also a part of the musical theatre community at the university. As an actor in the Musical Theatre UCalgary club, she participated in the productions of Ex-Wives and Legally Blonde.
She says musical theatre was a creative outlet that challenged her in different ways than computer science did. She says computer science could be stressful because it was going to be her career, whereas musical theatre just allowed her to have fun.
“With this, it wasn’t challenging in a stressful way, it was me doing it for fun and trying to get better, which was a really healthy outlet for me,” she says.
“Plus, my dancing improved a lot.”