Dec 13 2017

The Place to Be for Computer Science

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(This post was authored by Dr. Jerry Gannod.)

Have you ever heard anyone use this phrase: “TTU is a hidden gem!”. I know that some would like things to stay this way; if you are an employer looking for graduates, hidden gems are wonderful because you don’t have to compete for the next wave of new hires. I personally have an issue with this. My desire for this department is to have it become recognized as the top destination for computing students in the State of Tennessee – e.g., become the place to be for computer science. There are many ways to interpret what that means and to me, I think that our brand, as an institution and as a department is one that has its foundation in excellence in teaching without sacrificing quality in scholarship. In our current state, I don’t believe we are ready to broadly compete in research with the likes of UT-Knoxville or Vanderbilt University. However, our faculty are excellent scholars who understand that a balance between teaching and scholarship yields outstanding outcomes for our students.

Hidden Gem_Gannod
We’ve had many positive accomplishments in the past year. We hosted our first Computing and IT Alumni Conference in April, 2017 in partnership with the Department of Decision Sciences and Management (DSM). The conference provided the backdrop for the announcement of SAIC establishing the Cookeville Technology Integration Gateway, including the creation of 300-400 new jobs in the area. Indeed, many of our successes have been due to our corporate relationships. We’ve been able to raise approximately $50K in new funding to support our capstone course due to generous gifts from Unum, Relatient, SAIC, CARTA, Urban Science, and Cru. These gifts allow our students to travel to sponsor sites, acquire equipment and software subscriptions, and generally operate a small software development organization. We also were able to raise an additional $50K in new funding from The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee Foundation to establish a new endowed scholarship. These scholarships will enable us to continue our efforts improve the diversity of our student body. Furthermore, through the efforts of Dr. Ambareen Siraj and the Cybersecurity Education Research and Outreach Center (CEROC), an infusion of $2M from the State of Tennessee has been allocated to help CEROC make the Department of Computer Science at TTU the place to be for cybersecurity education.
Each success over the past year has been tempered by challenges that have required the kind of mindset that is open to unconventional solutions and exploring new ground. While we have seen hundreds of new computing jobs get created in Cookeville, we have also experienced budget cuts that have reduced our fiscal flexibility. We’ve seen growth in student enrollment, but have also faced challenges in being able to reduce class sizes in order to provide the best educational experience for our students.
My desire as the chair of this department is to try to enable every part of this community to become successful. I have had one of my colleagues tell me that our strategic plan and all of our efforts have been aimed at the “top” students and that we effectively ignore the middle and lower part of the bell. I disagree. For instance, all of the funding in the capstone course is spread across ALL teams, not just an elite few. The new scholarships are aimed at increasing diversity – to students from underrepresented groups that would not otherwise even consider TTU as a destination for matriculation. As we seek to create opportunities for our students to study abroad, our focus is making this accessible to all students – not just the elite ones.


(Photo by
Anyway, I like to believe that my mindset is a growth mindset. In particular, regardless of the challenges and roadblocks that we might face, I believe there are always solutions to our problems. We just might not have found them yet. These solutions might not fit into the mold of what we want, and they may only get us part of the way towards our original goals. These solutions are cumulative and as we move forward, it is just as important to learn something along the way, to build partnerships with those we meet on the road, and to consider that just because we may have always done some things certain ways doesn’t mean that we’ve always done it the right or best way. As such, we have to be willing to push the boundaries of our experiences and assess whether or not some new way of approaching our problems may hold promise. We pick and choose our battles, realizing that ground lost today may yield ground gained tomorrow.
As we look forward to the new year, I invite you to keep an eye out on some other developments in our department. We hope to add five new faculty members over the next couple of years in order to meet our teaching and scholarship mission, especially in the presence of our growing enrollment. Also, in the new year we will be opening up our new Data Science and Analytics Collaboratory in the Volpe Library in a joint effort with the Department of Decision Sciences and Management in the College of Business. We will be continuing our efforts to renovate our learning, research, and faculty spaces, and redoubling our efforts to attract the best and brightest students to TTU to study Computer Sciences. I hope that you will join us on this journey.

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Nov 30 2017

Schoolhouse Rock and Fighting Cancer

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(This post was authored by Dr. Doug Talbert.)

I have a student who occasionally wears a “Schoolhouse Rock” shirt evoking some nostalgia for the short, educational cartoons that were shown on television when I was a child. The catchphrase for Schoolhouse Rock was “Knowledge is Power,” and even though it has been a long time since those were regularly aired, the truth of that catchphrase still resonates with me today, and as a data scientist, my job is to unlock the power of knowledge that is hidden inside data. In fact, Yann LeCun, Director of AI Research at Facebook, once said, “Most of the knowledge in the world in the future is going to be extracted by machines and will reside in machines.”

shirts_schoolhouserock (Dr. Talbert - Data Science Month)

A group of TTU computer science students and I are trying to enable machines to extract knowledge from medical data and turn that knowledge into power in the fight against cancer. We have partnered with researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Medical University of South Carolina to seek knowledge that will improve our understanding of cancer-related disease processes, enable more informed decisions regarding prevention and treatment, and possibly assist in the development of new prevention and treatment options.

This complex problem presents many challenges to both data scientists and clinicians. The relevant data includes electronic health records, clinical reports written in natural language, and genetic data containing sequences of thousands of genes. Our work will involve using data science to transform that data into something the computer can manipulate, to link related data together, to identify meaningful patterns, and, ultimately, to translate those patterns into knowledge that can help us prevent and treat cancer more effectively.

So far, I have focused mostly on the medical goals of our project – a better understanding of cancer and improved cancer prevention and treatment. We also hope to advance the state of knowledge in data science/machine learning. Our machine learning goals have been inspired by recent advances that seek to equip computers with more human-like learning capabilities – an ability to learn continuously, an ability to autonomously apply knowledge learned in one context to improve learning in another context, and an ability to self-direct learning.

The development of such an advanced learning system in an area as complex as cancer research will only become a reality through many small steps over a long period of time. Like the system we plan to build, we’ll learn as we go, and, hopefully, along the way, we’ll turn data into power that helps us beat cancer.

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Nov 10 2017

Doing Data Science before it was Data Science

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(This post was authored by Dr. Bill Eberle)

When I tell people I worked on Star Wars, I generally get that look of “What?”, “Really?”, or “You’re too short for a storm trooper.” I then have to explain to them that it was actually called the Star Wars Defense Initiative – a national defense system created during the Reagan years to protect our country from a potential Russian nuclear strike.  It was fun working on the project.  I got to work in what is called a Tempest building – a building so thick that signals cannot get in or out.  I was using high-end graphical work stations, and programming fairly complex mathematical equations.  I even got to meet senior military personnel, whom I would then demo simulations of the defense system.  Unfortunately, I never got to meet Admiral Ackbar.

Stars Wars_Eberle Blog

While all of this work was satisfying, I was not getting to use any of what I had learned over the last several years while I earned my Masters’ degree in Computer Science with a concentration in Artificial Intelligence. Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself. A local division of a major telecommunications company was starting a new project, and was looking to hire software engineers on a project involving marketing data.  While, at that time, I didn’t see the A.I. in what was being advertised, something intrigued me about the opportunity.  So I applied.

I got a call a couple of weeks later to meet with the hiring manager. While we talked about the project, I realized that the general problem they were trying to solve was handling lots of data (nobody called it “big data” back then) and creating tools that would provide knowledge to their users – or, today, we would call it data science.  I then proposed to him some ideas out of artificial intelligence that could be used to analyze the data and present information in a way that would be easy to use and understand by their customers.  I think that sold him, because he called me back the next week and asked when I could start.

I then got to spend the next three years doing data science! I was involved in everything from natural language processing, to data warehousing, to complex SQL querying of the data, to visualization of the data.  My MS thesis had been in natural language processing, so I used that expertise to create software that allowed marketing people to ask the system queries, in English – like how many people are married, drive a BMW, have a dog, and 2.5 kids – and in turn it would generate SQL queries to the data warehouse.  Results were then translated back into English (or into a table, if they preferred), making it very easy for them to understand the results.  And all of this was done on a very big data warehouse, which, at that time, was actually the largest data warehouse in the world.

In the end, it was all about creating software that made it easier for users to understand their data.

I may not have been able to destroy the Death Star, but it was still lots of fun.


Next Time: Doing Fraud Detection

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Oct 19 2017


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(This post was authored by Mr. John Simmons)

Balance facilitates a productive, ethical outlook. Balance encompasses work, hobbies, and all other things besides. I might say that balancing these activities is an everyday goal, but I believe that counteracts success. Seasonal approaches to life foster the best results in my experience. Of course, I am at the point where getting my foot into the door industry-wise is what truly matters. While living a balanced life sounds all well-and-good, it does undeniably reduce my chances at a successful career from the onset. Getting started on the upward spiral of professional-level labor has lots of strings attached. I need to have the overall capital, so lazing around for any extended period of time will do me no good; it is too carefree for my tastes. I doubt employers will care for my capacity for leisure compared to what I can accomplish with my nose to the grindstone. By the way, I am defining leisure as hobby pursuits that foster indulgence rather than raw output. So again, employers will definitely want to see me at my peak performance and efficiency. Given the competition, that means laboring overtime to come out a cut above the rest. Vacations are secondary when success happens right now. In that sense, professionalism (indicative of success) extends to both on-the-clock activity and off-the-clock pursuits.


For me, those off-the-clock pursuits deduce to more work, except usually these works will end up benefiting mostly me rather than some other entity. There are still plenty of service obligations that must be met to satisfy the soul but realistically speaking, unless it is one’s exceptional calling, service hours comprise a small percentage of people’s time in lieu of what they can do for themselves and others; you can only give what you got in this regard, and I am no different. Mentioning ‘others’ may somewhat cancel out the selfishness of what I just said on a surface-level. Deeper down, however, it is a different story. The best way to help yourself is often means offering yourself up to others whole-heartedly. This could be considered self-marketing. The best way to market yourself, proven time and time again by free trial after trial, involves giving 90% of yourself away for free so that you can successfully yet sensibly charge for the remaining 10%. When I say ‘yourself’, I am not saying that compartmentalizing and selling your soul is the answer; investing your time and energies will suffice. Save your soul for the ones who truly deserve it (family, friends, God, et cetera).

This may be hard to stomach, the idea of laboring to the idle praises of contemporary peers and to no monetary benefit. Well, there is no DIRECT monetary benefit. Back to the idea of self-marketing, helping others often turns into a mutual agreement and perhaps evolves into a substantial relationship if all continues to go well. The best way to prove yourself in the eyes of the masses is to provide value. Yes, value is a product of labor unless laziness for whatever reason serves some unusually productive purpose, but I am not addressing outliers here. Raw value cannot be defined at such a high level without generalizing, so figuring out what value means in any field will require field-specific understanding. Knowing what it means will open the gateway of opportunity. Creating that value will draw people in and immerse them into the creator’s network. Having a network vastly improves one’s chances. There is only so much a single human can do in a society built upon cooperative effort. Kickstarting a career will almost always involve outside help whether that attributes a hiring company or a loyal consumer-base. Personally, pretty much everything I do on a daily basis somehow involves others. Each day I participate in college, work my internship, and pursue passion pursuits—all three of these are socially stimulated.

Passion makes these commitments so much easier to undertake as well. When you strike upon passion, it literally alters the approach you take to life. Motivation hits and it does not matter if you are in a dead-end job, because when not working that job you are developing that necessary skillset. If you are not, then that passion was probably a spur-of-the-moment adrenaline rush rather than a life-changing revelation. Passion fueled my struggle to learn all of what I know about software development over just one summer. There was that desire to be lazy, but my desire to become grew greater overtime, trumping my laziness outright. As of now, spending several-hour sessions coding happens weekly and even daily if there is time for it. A few months ago, I could not dedicate more than a couple hours just coding without my attention-span waning; this happened while I had the whole day to myself. These days, I am hard-pressed to find time for my programmatic passion pursuits. School always comes first both in time-consumed and overall prioritization compared to coding. I am attending college for a degree, after all.


Establishing the seasonal lifestyle necessary for the degree demands habitual health. Laziness causes most people to think in terms of energy and not in doing. Energy is a pretty cheap commodity anyways, so get used to using it up! Goal-setting and scheduling are two possible ways to curb one’s laziness. I wake up each day to a nice array of posted notes outlining the rest of my day. I sit down at my computer with a plan in mind and goals to keep me motivated. Having an established routine facilitates productivity when there are so many distractions around. Different techniques work for different people. For example, posted notes put me on track for the rest of the day while the pomodoro timing technique induces positive workflow; they might not do this for others. Finding what works individually is very important. That way, you can buckle down and get it done efficiently. Playing around with different techniques will pave the way. Whatever the case, it has been scientifically proven that humans learn best through play and experimentation. It took me several years to come into my own with coding, so do not expect an overnight miracle. Do expect that through hard work and grit progress will be made, fulfillment obtained, and balance redefined into seasons.

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Oct 04 2017

GenCyber Reflections: The Experiences of Five Chaperones at Tennessee Tech’s GenCyber Camp (2017)

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Before we begin, I would like to apologize to all those who contributed to this article; I had intended to publish it almost two months ago, but a series of unfortunate circumstances (coupled with my schoolwork) pushed it back until now. Additionally, I would like to clarify the context of the article. Starting at the end of May, 2017, and running through July 10th, 2017, a group of people comprised of myself (Jacob Strickler), Kendall Kirby, Nick Hatfield, Colton Wrisner, Kathryn Burks, David Yantis, Zachary Wallace, Eric Brown, Paula Brown, Artem Drachkov, Dr. Ambareen Siraj, and Dr. Vitaly Ford worked to develop activities for that summer’s GenCyber camp, which would take place from July 10th through July 14th. GenCyber camp is a computer science and CyberSecurity-themed camp sponsored by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation, which aims to introduce middle and high school students to the principles of CyberSecurity. Over the course of the camp, we engaged in activities including Raspberry Pi labs, investigative paper CTFs, and even games of dodgeball designed to teach students about data protection. At the end of the camp, we decided that we would publish an article detailing the experiences of five of the camp chaperones (the first five in the above list), each segment of which would be written by the corresponding chaperone. Our experiences are as follows:


  1. Jacob Strickler

My experience with this summer’s GenCyber camp came in three distinct stages: brainstorming, building, and doing. The brainstorming came in the very beginning – with those laughter-filled meetings where we looked forward to the camp with unbridled imaginations and asked ourselves, “How can we take what resources we have and turn them into something great?” Most of us had very little experience with the technical aspects of CyberSecurity, and we felt so ill-prepared that I think it drove us a little insane. Thankfully, it was the good kind of insanity, because in the first two weeks of camp development, we came up with more ideas than we could possibly remember: escape rooms, puzzles, social engineering experiments, Raspberry Pi labs, and even a website that we would intentionally encourage the students to exploit. Some of these activities seemed to create themselves, while others had to be shaped and molded at every turn to prevent some unseen catastrophe that might come crashing down upon us. It was hard work, but it was fun; it was the type of work that required a hazy vision of the future, where we struggled to ensure that everything would work within the scope of the camp, and that we hadn’t overlooked some crucial detail – and while we all came in with different visions, we managed to come together and create something far bigger than ourselves.

Then, there came the building. We were waist-deep in a torrent of both wonderful and horrible ideas, but if those ideas were to mean anything, they had to be made concrete. This was by far the most difficult part of the camp; sometimes, we would work from ten in the morning to ten at night, drawing, writing, coding, and attacking our websites from every angle, hoping they would break so we could convince ourselves that we fixed them. Although this stage was cumbersome, we learned a lot about ourselves. We learned that we were capable of far more than we had originally imagined, and that if we put our hands and minds to something, we could eventually make it real. I’m not certain that this stage ever truly ended; it seemed like every time we thought we were finished, another happy little speed-bump would make its way into our plans, and we’d go back to the lab once more. Nevertheless, the satisfaction was exquisite. To look at something we’d created, knowing that only a week ago, it was nothing more than a collection of images and impulses within our brains, somehow made it all worthwhile.

Lastly, there came the doing. I was tempted to call this section “teaching,” but I realized it was a great deal more complicated than that. As soon as the first student walked through those double doors, we knew that all the work of the past two months would be forced to consummate. There could be no more edits, revisions, or last-minute brainstorming; we were in the moment now, and either we succeeded, or we didn’t. Personally, as much as I loved the early stages of our “mad scientist” meetings, the camp itself was my favorite part. I never thought I would like teaching; my experience with the public education system was neither good nor bad, but it always carried a very captive atmosphere. I could tell that most of my fellow students would rather be somewhere else, and I think that’s true for most schools. At the GenCyber camp, however, it was the complete opposite. Here was a collection of young men and women – from rising eighth-graders to high-school seniors – all of whom truly wanted to be there. Some of them even cried when the camp was over, wishing that it could have been longer. I could tell that they had followed the same journey as we had, from believing they could never know enough to be good in CyberSecurity, to becoming confident that no obstacle was insurmountable. To be a part of that journey for so many younger students – and to have crafted the tools with which they made that journey – that was the most rewarding part of all.

  1. Kendall Kirby

I had a blast helping to run the GenCyber camp this summer; I learned so much in developing modules to teach the students. I’ve heard that you never really learn something until you teach it, and for me, this camp proved that. It was a lot of work preparing everything, and it seemed like every time we thought we had it all finished, some other issue would pop up. Honestly, though, that just made it more enjoyable. We were designing a camp for CyberSecurity, so, in part, we were teaching the students how to “break” technology. This meant that, when developing the modules, we had to look at them with extra scrutiny to make sure there weren’t any loopholes or bugs that could be exploited. I love that sort of thing – that’s why I want to be a penetration tester after graduation. The students, teachers, and counselors seemed to love every second of it, too. I never doubted that the camp would be enjoyable, but I was surprised at how enthusiastic everyone was about it. When the students were working on the modules, I would look around and see almost every student engrossed in his or her work. A few of the students that had previous experience with this sort of thing would finish early and help out other students or try to learn beyond the material. That was a great thing to see because it showed that the students had a genuine interest in this field. As the camp was ending, I heard several students say how they wish they could come back for more the next week. Hearing things like that really lets you know that you at least did some things right. I’m really glad I had the chance to participate this year, and I like to think that because of this camp, some students might choose to pursue an education in CyberSecurity (maybe even at Tech)! One can always hope…


  1. Nick Hatfield

Hey, y’all! My name is Nick Hatfield, and I’m an upcoming sophomore focusing in CyberSecurity. I got to work with this amazing group of people in CEROC this summer and my experience was a blast. Most of what I know right now is self-taught, and working with CEROC has tremendously boosted my confidence. I did not think that I would be able to contribute much to the group because of the little knowledge that I had beforehand, but that was not the case at all. I was given a handful of tasks to complete for the GenCyber camp this summer; my jobs consisted of setting up several modules. The first module I worked on was a Raspberry Pi lab that taught networking and the principle of Data Hiding. This lab emulated a traffic light, which the students would try to change by using their own pi. Throughout the activity, the students would use Wireshark to look at the connection between their personal pi and a ‘server’ pi. They found the data that the server used to change the lights and tried to manipulate it. I was also given the task for presenting on the importance of being a good “Cyber Samaritan,” which included smart network hygiene and general safety while on the web. Honestly, I feel like I learned just as much as the students who were attending the camp. My co-workers taught me when I was struggling with a concept and vice-versa. I’m incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with a group of such stunning individuals that all love doing what they do.


  1. Colton Wrisner

My experience with the GenCyber camp was both a joy and a learning opportunity. I feel extremely honored to have worked with such great people and to have been allowed to teach the coming generations about the importance of CyberSecurity. Each day of the camp, I remember waking up and looking at the schedule, excited for all the activities we had worked so hard to create, and for the chance we gave the students to learn about CyberSecurity. One thing I heard the students ask near the end of the camp really resonated with me: “Can we make this a two-week camp?” To me, this showed that all of our work was truly impacting the students’ lives so much that they wanted more opportunities to learn – and to have fun while doing it. I’m sure the other chaperones would agree; the long hours that we had worked during this week-long event were a highlight of our summers. This camp enabled the students to do far more than just sit around and play on a computer. It gave everyone the opportunity to make connections with like-minded peers, learn valuable skills for the near future, and have lots of fun. If I had to give this camp a rating, I’d say ten out of ten!


  1. Katie Burks

The best word I can use to describe GenCyber 2017 at Tennessee Tech is “disruptive.” Now, I know that most of us tend to think of disruption as a negative experience – at best, those sorts of things tend to be an inconvenience or a bother, and at worst our lives are dismantled and derailed and we’re left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. And, in a way, I suppose that connotation might also apply to the summer we would have experienced had any number of things had gone differently. Both the camp itself as well as the two months or so of preparation before the camp ever started threw me far out of my comfort zone – the idea of spending my summer trying to figure out good ways of teaching kids computer science and CyberSecurity was disruptive to the picture I had of myself, especially when I still had so much to learn about the things we were planning to teach. I was entirely unprepared for the amount of effort required to pull off an educational summer camp – never mind that I hadn’t actually been to a summer camp before.

As much as I learned in the two month preparation phase, my brain buzzing with Linux and Raspberry Pi labs, and as much as I pushed my creative capacities to the limit with coming up with puzzles and games from scratch, it was nothing compared to the first day of camp. The problems we expected never came up, while obstacles we hadn’t even considered seemed to crop up around every corner. Out of all this, the most difficult things to get over were the six words that echoed throughout the day by nearly everyone involved – students, teachers, counselors, and chaperones alike. “I’m not smart enough for this.”

Talk about a thought process that needed to be disrupted. I’m convinced that there are very few things more destructive to a human being than having a lack of confidence in his or her own capabilities, and we were all struggling with that very problem. Still, we pushed through the rest of the day, tackling the labs and activities and discussions we’d planned out weeks ago and looking forward with bated breath to the clock striking 5:00 p.m.

Then, somewhere between ploughing through an introduction to Linux and throwing tennis balls at each other from across a football field, those six words suddenly disappeared. No one was worrying about not being able to handle the information we were throwing around. No one was stuck on the fact that we’d never done anything like this before. It was as if we’d stopped being intimidated by the things we were trying to do and accepted that we were just going to spend the week learning – disrupting whatever opinions of ourselves we’d had on Saturday and giving ourselves the opportunity to grow. In the end, I think that’s what disruption really is – an opportunity to grow. I’m hard-pressed to think of another time when I’ve seen such an explosion of confidence over such a short time, for everyone involved with this experience.

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Sep 21 2017

A glimpse into the life of a student athlete

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(This post was authored by Ms. Susie Jeziorowski)

One of the toughest decisions a high school level student athlete must make before graduation is whether they want to continue playing their sport at a collegiate level. When I was making my decision, I sought advice from my coaches, teachers, parents and especially my sister who had previously played Division I volleyball and studied nursing at Marquette University. The advice was all unanimous. Playing collegiate volleyball is such a unique opportunity that not many people can experience, and turning down any scholarship offering would be a waste of a blessing.

Before visiting Tech, I had also been talking to the coaches at Missouri University of Science & Tech, a Division II university in Rolla, Missouri known for its impressive engineering and computer science programs. After going to see Missouri S&T, I was convinced that I was going to commit to the school because of its high prestige, however I had decided to still have my official visit to Tech just to see what it was like. Having grown up in northern Illinois, my family had never been to Tennessee nor ever heard of Tennessee Tech, so the thought of potentially attending school here completely took me out of my comfort zone.

Tennessee Tech entirely exceeded my expectations. Today, I am forever grateful that I had chosen Tech over Missouri. Although Tech’s computer science program may not be one of the top in the nation, I am undeniably proud to be a part of it and extremely thankful to have Dr. Eberle advising me during my collegiate career. Dr. Eberle has assisted me each semester in making a schedule that would work best for my team and I while also assuring me I could complete a double-concentration degree during my three and a half years here. My sister had warned me about the challenges of having to balance academia and athletics, so to have an advisor who is so understanding and invested in my studies is truly remarkable.


Although the strong computer science department and beautiful campus were large factors in my decision, I ultimately chose to play for Tech because of the coaching staff and girls that I met during my visit. They say that your college team becomes your family, and I can certainly attest to that. Now, my teammates are undoubtedly some of my best friends, and Head Coach Dave Zelenock is like a second father to me. During my career thus far, he has certainly improved my volleyball skills, however the impact Dave has made on me extends much further than what happens on the court. Dave has helped me grow as an adult, teaching me how to be a good person and how to deal with the plentiful stressors that come with being a collegiate student. It is certainly rare to see coaches in Division I athletics who care so much and take the time to understand their players like Dave does, and that is what makes Tech feel so much like home.

Being a student athlete in the computer science department certainly has its perks. As members of the team, we get a lot of cool Nike gear, we travel to dozens of new schools and places, we have things like books and food taken care of for us, and we also get to play the sport we love in an incredible facility. In fact, the Hooper Eblen Center is one of if not the best gyms in the entire Ohio Valley Conference! As great as all of this sounds, it comes at a great cost. As a student athlete, I have an entirely different perception of what college is like compared to other regular students.

Each day, my mornings start off with a 5 a.m. alarm. By 5:15, I am leaving my apartment with a granola bar and some hot coffee, struggling to wake myself up in time for practice. Around 5:30, I meet with the rest of my teammates in the locker room to put on our gear and get the nets set up in the gym. We spend the next 15-20 minutes getting ourselves warmed up and ready for practice. If we aren’t warmed up by 6 a.m., you best believe our coaches will get onto us! Dave always expects our team to have our entire attention on volleyball when we step foot in the gym. That’s what makes practice sort of therapeutic for me, even on the days our coaches are being extra hard on us. For about three hours each day, nothing else exists expect volleyball – no class, no boyfriends, no Object Oriented Programming exams, nothing. Those three hours are nice in that regard; however, a bad practice will most likely set me up for a bad rest of the day.

After practice, around 8:30 a.m., I either go to the Athletic Performance Center on campus for strength and conditioning training with our Cross Fit champion trainer, Matt Hewitt, or I go upstairs to the volleyball offices to study film with one of my assistant coaches, Kyle Gamble. From there, I try my best to grab a quick bite and head straight to class. Having chosen one of the toughest majors at Tennessee Tech, doesn’t always work in my favor. Our Computer Science program expects excellence and encompasses a lot of advanced curricula, so one of the largest challenges I face is staying on top of my studies.

Many would think playing on a college sports team would make a good excuse to slack off in class, however our situation is quite the opposite. Our athletic department expects us to excel in our classes and hold close relationships with our professors despite having to miss 20-30% of our lectures during the week. In fact, each athlete is required to attend weekly academic meetings and complete 8 hours of study hall per week to ensure we are successful in the classroom and eligible to play on the court. Thankfully, most professors in the computer science department are very understanding of how much pressure I must face with having ambitious standards yet traveling often. Many record their lectures, which allow me to watch class while I am on the bus and manage my classes a bit better. Coincidently, I am on my way to Ohio with my team as I write this blog.

TTU_Golden Eagles

Being an athlete is tough. Besides balancing out class, practices, workouts, meetings, and film, I often feel physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. It is easy to feel defeated when your body is sore, your mind is tired, and your classes are constantly testing your knowledge and effort. But this ‘grind’ is what makes it all worth it. This ‘grind’ is what is shaping me into a strong, independent, and intelligent person. This ‘grind’, though difficult and somewhat annoying, is perhaps the best thing a college student could ever put themselves through.

Another challenge I face daily is missing out on many collegiate opportunities. Believe it or not, I envy the kids that are able to attend every single class. Frequently, I can’t attend the fun computer science events our department holds, and I envy the students who can make it to every single CyberEagles meeting. Most often, I envy the students who can go out and enjoy themselves on weekdays, and the students who are able to travel home on the weekends. As a student athlete, my time is very limited, and there is rarely a time during the season when friends and family can come before school and sports.

Despite the many challenges of being a volleyball player at Tech, I would not change my situation for anything. Volleyball has pushed my physical and mental toughness, forced me to be healthy, and taught me what it means to work for what you want. Computer Science has brought me wonderful friends, taught me time management, and inspired me to pursue a successful future. Overall, Tennessee Tech University has blessed me with the opportunity to grow as an individual and has become an irreplaceable home. Although it is not the typical college experience, I am grateful for the opportunities Tech has given me, and am beyond excited for my last year and a half. Being a student athlete is a full-time job and a blessing – one that I would undoubtedly recommend.

Check out the Tennessee Tech Women’s Volleyball schedule at



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