Priti Prabhakar Wakodikar knew she wanted to pursue a career in computer science ever since she was in high school. Growing up in India, she excelled in computer science courses during her 11th and 12th standard years.
"From a young age," she says, "I was interested in learning computer science, from how people are conducting projects to the technical terminology of changes they plan to implement with the use of computers.
"People using computers to make life easy — that is what attracted me toward computer science."
Wakodikar's efforts in computer science have not gone unnoticed. For the 2019–20 academic year, which was her first at Binghamton University's Watson School, she was the first recipient of the Chandra Family Scholarship. It was established by Subhachandra Chandra and his wife, Nandita Dukkipati, for first-year international graduate students studying computer science, with priority given to female students.
Chandra cites his personal experience in the tech industry, specifically the lack of diversity, as the inspiration for the scholarship. "I have worked in Silicon Valley for about 20 years, and everyone agrees that diversity is important for success. Yet we are still struggling to make that a reality in science and tech nology, especially in computer science," he says.
"My hope is that by supporting international and female students, we help increase diversity in our chosen field."
Wakodikar says that scholarships like the one from Chandra and Dukkipati are critical for making higher education accessible to women who otherwise would have significant financial constraints.
These opportunities, she adds, inspire female students to pursue degrees in fields where they are underrepresented. "I'm lucky to have that scholarship right now," she says.
Although she is a first-year student in Binghamton's computer science graduate program, Wakodikar has years of experience in the field. In 2014, she received her first master's degree in computer science, with a focus in cybersecurity, from Nagpur University in India. Additionally, she has six years of teaching experience as an assistant professor at MIT World Peace University in Pune, India.
"I came here to improve my knowledge because technology is changing rapidly," she says, "and I have to keep up."
Wakodikar's interest in cybersecurity stems from a personal incident: Her account on the now-defunct social media site Orkut was hacked, and that invasion of privacy made her want to dig deeper into the problem.
"I became interested in how and why people hack systems," she says.
She credits her parents for supporting her pursuit in the computer science field. They were interested in pursuing higher education in science, but financial constraints prevented them. Both have encouraged Wakodikar and her sister to pursue any field that they are passionate about.
"We are free birds, and our parents tell us to go wherever we want," Wakodikar says.
Her parents are proud that she was awarded the Chandra Family Scholarship. "They were very happy," she says. "They said that such scholarships motivate every child to pursue education."
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