While Stephanie Walker is excited to be on the verge of graduating from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with her undergraduate major in information sciences, the senior said it is also a bittersweet moment.
“I look back and almost wish I could have discovered information sciences sooner. I just feel like I spent a good portion of time here at the university studying majors I didn’t particularly enjoy, so I only had one and a half years to really explore information sciences. At times, I wish my undergraduate education wasn’t ending so soon, but nonetheless, I’m excited for what the future holds,” she said.
Walker will be one of the first students graduating with the undergraduate major in information sciences, which was officially established as a new UT major in fall 2019. Since its inception, the undergraduate information sciences program has quickly grown, drawing in students such as Walker, who were looking for something a little different.
“I changed my major twice before hitting the mark with information sciences. I was a computer science major at first, and I loved many aspects of it, but I couldn’t see myself pursuing it as a full-time career. So I switched to accounting, which I learned very quickly was not for me,” she said. “I like that information sciences is so interdisciplinary and incorporates a human element alongside the analytical and IT components.”
Walker also said information sciences broadened her career opportunities, something she realized when she took her very first information sciences course, INSC 201 – Foundations of Information Sciences. She learned that information sciences could take her into social media, consulting, computer science, data analytics, and more. Data analytics is the concentration that really drew Walker’s eye, and she decided to pursue it as a specific concentration.
SIS Assistant Professor Carolyn Hank, who is also the SIS interim director of undergraduate studies, describes Walker as a powerhouse and a trailblazer, noting that Walker chose to complete both an independent study course and a practicum, when only one of those capstone projects was required for graduation.
“She takes initiative and is committed to excellence. And she evidenced that excellence in her academic work! Not only is she our first graduate; she embodies characteristics really vital to academic and subsequently, early career success – the drive with the know-how,” Hank said. “I am really looking forward to staying in touch with Stephanie so I can continue to celebrate her accomplishments as she moved from information sciences student to an information professional and leader in our field.”
All the work has panned out – Walker has a job as a technology risk consultant at Ernst & Young waiting for her upon graduation. She started a practicum at the company last summer and completed it mid-spring semester. There, she was pleased to discover she had a great foundation and skillset to do the work the company required of her.
“I knew a lot of what the big bosses at the firm were talking about and was able to apply what I had learned in my classes, which was very exciting. I especially noticed it as I was surrounded by other interns who didn’t necessarily have the same knowledge or background as I do,” Walker said. “It’s reassuring knowing that I have a good education under my belt from SIS at UT, so I know I can feel confident going into the workforce.”
One course that boosted her confidence and was especially fulfilling was the independent study, INSC 493, she completed with SIS Assistant Professor Jiangen He. The independent study course allows for two options: completing an in-depth research paper on an information sciences topic of the student’s choice, or completing an information sciences’ related technical project. Walker chose the latter, which for her consisted of learning the software, SPSS. He said Walker was adept at learning the software and that he believes she will be an excellent information professional.
“Stephanie explored various methods of data processing and analytics, and applied those methods in resolving a challenging problem in the independent study she worked with me. She is an effective self-learner and problem-solver,” He said.
Walker said she really enjoyed applying what she had learned in class to analyzing real data, and that understanding a new software was a valuable tool for her skillset.
Walker is ready to spread the word about information sciences – a field about which she knew nothing until another friend in the program told her about it. She recommends that any student who is interested in connecting computer sciences with people, and who wants a broad array of careers to enter, should take an SIS class or two to see if they like it.
“I think no matter what major you’re in or what career path you end up on, having an information sciences minor could help you in so many ways just because of how interdisciplinary and relevant it is today,” she said.