Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Elizabeth O'Hara plans to focus on accessible technology
by Rachel Stengel '14, '20
Senior Elizabeth O'Hara is headed to Villanova University this fall with a full tuition scholarship to pursue her master's degree in software engineering.
The computer science and graphic design double major's ultimate goal is to focus on accessibility.
"I want to develop software so no matter if someone has cognitive, motor or visual impairments, they can use the software and successfully navigate the web," she says.
O'Hara's work with Rider's Unified Sports Club, an organization where students play a variety of sports with Special Olympics athletes, has inspired her career goals. She has been a member of the club all four years and served as president for two.
O'Hara is the fifth and final one of her siblings to attend Rider. She came to the University with no background in computer science. In fact, she originally enrolled as a health science major, but decided to pursue her interests in math and design.
"That was really one of the biggest reasons I chose Rider, the fact that I could personalize my education and get both majors in there," she says.
O'Hara credits the faculty, particularly Dr. Md Liakat Ali, in the computer science program for helping her build her confidence in the unfamiliar field. As a woman pursuing a STEM career, she says she has had to learn to accept that failure is part of the process and that it is not a deterrent to success.
"I built up my confidence in an area where I really wasn’t sure about yet," she says. "Especially with women in STEM-related or technology fields, sometimes they lack the confidence and are not always accepting of failure. With computer science and coding, you have to fail. A little semicolon is the reason sometimes between your code working or your code breaking, and it’s really frustrating. It’s not a major that you can be perfect in all the time. Once I got my footing in the program, I was really able to thrive after that."
I want to develop software so no matter if someone has cognitive, motor or visual impairments, they can use the software and successfully navigate the web."
Participating in research opportunities and internships solidified O'Hara's passion for software engineering. Recently, she completed a study using machine learning algorithms to detect dementia using clinical patient data from an online database with a fellow computer science student. The study was accepted to the International IOT, Electronics and Mechatronics Conference, where O'Hara and her co-author will present their findings. She held internships at Susan G. Komen, Olympus Corporation of the Americas and, most recently, Vanguard. As an application development intern there, she helped upgrade accessibility features on webpages to ensure anyone with disabilities could use the page.
"Once I was at Vanguard with the application development side of things, I realized how much my extracurricular experiences at Rider really brought me those soft skills of leadership, good communication and teamwork," O'Hara says. "Rider also helps you grow a real curiosity for your intended career field, which is so important."
O'Hara maintained a 4.0 GPA while being very involved at Rider. She is the current Student Government Association (SGA) president, previously serving as SGA vice president of student affairs and sophomore class president. She has welcomed new students as an orientation leader and a tour guide. She earned a certificate in leadership through Rider's Leadership Development Program and the 2022 President's Award, which is given to graduating seniors who demonstrate exemplary leadership skills, academic achievement, service to the University and extracurricular involvement.
"I’m not one to take on leadership positions just to add it as another thing to my résumé," she says. "I think it’s really important to give back to the community that has given you so much and that’s definitely true for my Rider experience."