Commencement 2024: Meet Emily Ratsavong

Growing up, Emily Ratsavong was the person people came to when they needed help with their computer. Now, as a senior graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Sciences and Data Science, she is excited to address projects at the intersection of technology and data.

“I’ve always been into technology. My dad was always building computers and I became interested in digital technology through my hobby of video games. I loved the feeling of solving problems with code and putting together solutions logically. For me, the next logical step was to pursue computer science,” says Ratsavong.

From Oconomowoc, WI, Ratsavong chose UW–Madison because of the high reputation of the Computer Sciences program and the opportunities it would provide.

In high school, Ratsavong also loved math. When she learned about the Data Science program during her sophomore year at UW–Madison, she thought it might be right for her.

“I thought it would be a great fit for me because of how data drives a lot of the decisions we make and how we interpret the world,” says Ratsavong.

She is just one of many School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS) students studying both Computer Sciences and Data Science. Nearly half of CDIS students are pursuing double majors, many of them opting for a Computer Sciences and Data Science double major.

Ratsavong says studying both has helped her apply skills from both a developer perspective and an analytical perspective.

“With the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, learning data science and computer science together has been incredibly important. Additionally, data science has helped me see just how important data is as a tool for developing. For instance, visualizing machine learning models or gathering user insights on your code,” says Ratsavong.

Additionally, she is also earning certificates in Digital Studies and Game Design.

“My certificate in Digital Studies has helped me explore the culture side of digital technologies and how the tools we develop may impact our society. Game Design has been such a fun certificate to pursue as it has allowed me to dive into the creative side of technology,” says Ratsavong. “Overall, I want to use both certificates to better understand how all the different parts of my work in computer science and data science fit together and impact society.”

Ratsavong is also a Mercile J. Lee Scholar and served as the Personal Contact Co-Chair of the program.

The Mercile J. Lee Scholar Program (MJLSP) is a four-year scholarship program to attract, support, and develop the abilities and potential of academically talented and outstanding students from underrepresented groups. Scholars benefit from individualized advising, a supportive peer network, leadership development, mentorship opportunities, and more.

Through the program, Ratsavong has helped bring scholars closer together, built community, and even organized the first-ever MJLSP Hack-a-thon.

“Being an MJLSP scholar has given me the amazing opportunity to be part of an inclusive and supportive campus community, especially after the pandemic made that so hard freshman year. The program supports its scholars through social and volunteering events to build community. When I served as personal contact co-chair for our cohort, I was able to help bring scholars closer together,” says Ratsavong.

She also received personalized mentorship from her MJLSP mentor, Madeline Julliard, who was an advisor in the Computer Sciences department with ties to the thriving technology scene in Madison, Wisconsin.

“Having mentors with previous experiences helped me immensely in my professional growth and helped me learn how to be successful in my future career,” says Ratsavong.

Ratsavong’s favorite part of her journey at UW–Madison the friends she made during her time here.

“I think that experiencing college with your own people and building that community is so important because it can lead you to new experiences you wouldn’t have tried or known about before. I would have never even known about Data Science if I had not learned about it from one of my friends who was in the program,” says Ratsavong.

After she graduates, she will be working as an Enterprise Application Developer for Alliant Energy working on automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

“My goal is to keep learning and furthering my skills as technology is always evolving. There is just so much in the field of computer science. Even after completing my degree, I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. Long-term, I am to eventually return to graduate school for computer science, information science, or user experience,” says Ratsavong.