Making An Impact: An Interview with Brianna and Dheya from UNC Computer Science + Social Good

May 24, 2024

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. For context, University Career Services (UCS) and the UNC Computer Science + Social Good (CS + SG) club collaborated in the spring of 2024 for a Career Trek to Google in Durham, NC. During the site visit, representatives from both organizations discussed the activities of CS + SG, leading to this interview. This interview is hosted by Elyse Molewyk from UCS. She interviews Brianna Ta and Dheya Madhani, recent UNC graduates and former co-presidents of CS + SG.

Elyse Molewyk (EM): Welcome to this interview, Brianna and Dheya! University Career Services is so excited to talk with you about the UNC Computer Science + Social Good club and what you do. I know we’ve collaborated in the past, so we’re excited to hear more about your club and what you do! So the first question is, tell me about your organization! What inspired its creation? How did it come about, how did it begin? Did you guys start it? 

Brianna Ta (BT): So Computer Science + Social Good is an organization that uses technology to impact the social good of the Chapel Hill and RDU area. We primarily work with nonprofits and Social Good organizations and offer them our tech services. Basically, it helps students hone their technical skills on real-world projects, and it helps some algorithm, app, or website for some nonprofits, so it’s a win-win situation. In particular, we like making websites, analytical dashboards, or web scraping algorithms. We [Dheya and I] did not start the club, it started a while ago, I think in 2018? We actually hosted the founders for an alumni panel last fall, which was really cool. They’re now at Apple and Tempus Labs, so it’s nice to hear back from them. But we’re just continuing their legacy.

EM: That’s so cool! You guys just mentioned you team up with organizations and offer your services. How do you stumble across those opportunities? Do they actively reach out to you or do you have a social chair that reaches out for collaborations? 

Dheya Madhani (DM): I think it’s a good mix of both! We also are connected with leaders of other campus organizations, so if they ever need help or come across a nonprofit organization that they’re helping out—that also needs technology services—we jump in and help them out! But we also actively reach out to nonprofit organizations. Some of our past founders have made a database that consists of nonprofit organizations that we could potentially reach out to, but we also actively reach out on our own, just by searching online or online surveys. 

EM: Is there a particular organization that has been really cool to work with? Or is there a standout moment or achievement from your group?

BT: I would probably say the project team that worked on CATCH, Carolina Adapts Toys for Children. The team made a website and catalog for adaptive toys for kids with disabilities. Seeing that website really come to life, and that vision—this was actually a collaboration between two UNC clubs, so it was even better for the community—that was really awesome to see. 

DM: And just to go back to the first question, our organization is structured so that we have an education team and several project teams. The education team members, after a semester of learning more [about Computer Science], transfer to the project teams where they can actually work with the nonprofit organizations. So you don’t really need to know any technological skills before coming to our club, we’ll teach you all or most of the stuff you need to know! It’s a learning process throughout, and then you can transfer to a project team and actually work with a nonprofit organization. 

Going back to that moment that we look back at and feel proud of: it’s when the education team members present their work at the end-of-semester showcase. It’s cool to see how they literally went from not knowing anything, to like… now we had someone in our most recent showcase create a really good replica of X or Twitter. It’s just really cool to see the journey of so many students being able to make sites we can use, and then actually being able to help organizations with that the following semester. So that’s a really proud moment for us, we’re really happy to see that. 

EM: That is so cool! That is definitely something you guys should be really proud of! I was an English major in undergrad and a lot of people I knew were Computer Science majors, and I was always like I do not know how you do what you do, so it’s so cool that you don’t have to have any Computer Science experience coming in, you can come in and learn everything. 

Something that came to mind when I was preparing for this interview is the idea that it’s a really unique blend to combine Computer Science and Social Good. I know you said the club started a few years ago, but could you speak to the thought behind putting those two together? Have there been any challenges you’ve faced in bringing these seemingly different fields together? 

BT: Yeah, for sure! How the club came about is more about how students have theoretical knowledge from their classes, but haven’t really had the chance to apply it yet to real-world projects, so we wanted to help and bridge that gap. But at the same time, we wanted to make a positive impact on our community. I think in a lot of Hackathon’s and competitions for Computer Science students, you do want to impact social good and help make the world a better place, so we chose that as our focus for the club. 

EM: It sounds like applying theoretical knowledge to experiential learning, and experiential learning is a big thing that UCS is all about, so that’s awesome! I know earlier you guys said you’re seniors, you just graduated, so congratulations! Looking ahead, where do you see the Computer Science + Social Good club heading in a couple of years? I’d assume you pass off the hat to some of the current members of the group, so where do you see it going? 

DM: Yeah! So, first of all we’re so excited to see the direction that Computer Science + Social Good goes in. We’re so excited for the new board to take over. It’s been about one or two years serving as president with Brianna and it’s been an amazing experience, so we’re really excited to see where this goes. But in particular, this past semester we were able to work with corporations like AWS, where we had them host a workshop for our students in January about AI. Then using our networking skills we were able to get the Google Career Trek or site visit! So going forward we would love to partner with larger corporations, have them host workshops for our members, or even have opportunities for collaboration where we share our mission of using technology for social good with them. Then they can show more practical ways of applying that or how they use that in their company. So one thing would be definitely having more collaborations with larger corporations. 

BT: This past semester we actually introduced the mentorship program where some of our older members can help some of the younger members navigate the Computer Science community and help them with anything they need. And yes, we wanted to expand on that and more events for that. In general, we started fundraising and having fundraising nights around Chapel Hill because we want to have more community events for our members, especially because you do coding in your classes and coding in your clubs, but sometimes you just want to have fun with your friends and build a better community. So we’re really trying to push that in the future and potentially even having a mini Hackathon one day to have more innovation among our members, and just so they can bond and have free food [laughs] and things like that. 

DM: Also, to expand on the mentorship thing, we do want to have a stronger alumni network. Brianna and I are both graduated, so we want to offer alumni from our club to give back and help current students using our resources and networking, so that’s something we also want to expand on. 

EM: I was literally about to comment [laughs], as alumni, you could totally come back as mentors for the group, but you guys beat me to it! A follow-up question because you mentioned this a couple of times before—like I said earlier, I’m not a Computer Science person, I don’t know the terminology—but you mentioned a Hackathon a couple of times. What exactly is that? 

BT: A Hackathon is usually a short competition, the ones I have been to are typically 24 hours, so the committee hosting will give you some themes they want you to center your project around, and sometimes they have prizes! Then you make your project within 24 hours, you present it to the judges, and you can possibly win a prize based on what criteria it fits into. Typically people make websites or apps because those are the easiest to make in 24 hours. At UNC we have HackNC and PearlHacks, and we hope to have a CS + SG one in the future! [laughs]

EM: That makes a lot of sense, thank you so much for clarifying that! Back to our conversation about alumni, what are your plans post-grad? Do you have any plans lined up, are you still in the Computer Science or Social Good field? 

DM: I’ll be working as a software engineer at Fidelity Investments starting in June! I’m really looking forward to blending my interests in economics, computer science, and cognitive science, which were my majors and minor. Once I figure out what exactly I want to specialize in, I would like to go back to grad school and see how I can use my technology skills for the betterment of society. But I really want to get that practical experience before I go back to school. 

BT: I’m headed to Columbia University to study Data Science and pursue my M.S. degree! 

EM: Oh my gosh, that is so cool! Well, congratulations on your plans! That’s really awesome. I do have one last question though! For all the current UNC students just wondering how they can use their majors to make a positive impact, Computer Science, Social Good, or not, do you have any words of wisdom you would want to share? 

BT: For me, I would say go out there, embrace your passions and skills, and maybe even try looking beyond traditional paths. Like instead of doing research, you can help out with clubs, and you could do internships during the school year. Honestly, everyone has their own unique perspective and everyone will try and pursue their passions in different ways. So always stay curious and have a learning mindset! It’s really important to know that even when you’re seniors and graduating, there’s still room to learn, especially because every field is different. Always learning and getting better is my advice. 

DM: I couldn’t agree more, and kind of going off of that, you can easily implement Social Good or your technology skills for Social Good as long as you figure out your interests or general passion. For instance, if you’re interested in music, geology, or biology, you could easily make an app or website addressing what you see as a problem space existing in that field. You can easily combine your interests, basically any field, with technology and do Social Good through that. So your core focus doesn’t really have to be technology, you can have interest in other fields, and you can easily combine those interests and make an impact on society. 

EM: That’s really great advice. You guys have so much more wisdom than I did when I graduated, so kudos to you! Thank you so much for joining me on this interview, and thank you so much for giving us a bird’s-eye view into your organization while you were a part of it. We’re definitely going to be hopefully reaching out for more collaborations in the future! Thank you for being here, I loved chatting with you guys, and I wish you the best of luck in your post-grad plans at Fidelity and Columbia! 

All: Thank you! 

Sharing and printing options: