Allison Higgins - Student Profile
Spring 2018 | By Alexis Prothro
For Allison Higgins’17, interning at IT giant Cisco during the summer of 2017 was the fulfillment of a dream she had since high school to make computer programming life.
The computer science student rounded out her senior year in sunny California, working in the heart of Silicon Valley working alongside professional engineers on software development projects.
But Higgins said that her love for STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—came later in her young life, and she’s determined to see girls develop a passion for this budding and lucrative career field early on.
Like many African American girls, Higgins was not interested in STEM and there were no programs targeted toward someone like her.
It wasn’t until she participated in the International Hour of Code, a nation-wide program that teaches students to code using video games, during her senior year of high school that her curiosity for computing was sparked.
“It took me finding it on my own and discovering how great it was for me to get into it,” she says.
Higgins was already enrolled in Clayton State’s dual enrollment program and decided to continue her studies at the University.
After taking a few computer science classes, Higgins said she began to second-guess her career choice. But a brief encounter with computer science instructor, Jillian Jones, helped her realize she was on the right path.
“It’s encouraging to see people that look like you are making it in what you’re trying to do. Representation matters so much,” Higgins says.
At Clayton State, Higgins made it her mission to get more young women and minorities aware of the opportunities a career in STEM can bring.
She volunteered at Rex Mill Middle School teaching students robotics and programming. She also served as the president of WiSTEM, Women Interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The student-led organization helps female and minority students engage in STEM through scholarships, internships and career advancement.
“With the lack of representation in STEM, students may not always know about all of the great opportunities that are out there for them, so WiSTEM is a springboard for that,” Higgins says.
Her efforts are what led her to earn an internship with Cisco. After interviewing with the company representatives at the annual Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing conference, she received a call to pack her bags and head to San Jose to spend her summer with the company.
While there, she developed a chat bot for Cisco’s messaging app to help new hires and interns get familiar with the company.
“During orientation, we had a lot of info just thrown at us, and when it came time to do payroll or how to set up a meeting through email, a lot of us had to figure it out later,” Higgins said. “This chat bot goes into the internal Cisco messaging app, you ask it questions and it returns answers.”
Her original idea was well-received by her coworkers. And her performance during her internship scored her a full-time job with Cisco.
Higgins said besides starting her new job, she hopes to teach computer science one day and launch her own startup.
More importantly, she wants to help more women and minorities enter the tech industry.
“That’s what I’m really about,” Higgins says. “Pushing the door open.”