The Columns

My W&L: Samantha O’Dell ’15

— by on September 5th, 2016

Samantha O'Dell '15

“I am where I am because of W&L.”

Nearly four years ago, I came to W&L having marked my prospective major as Psychology. I can’t remember ever planning to major in Psychology, but that’s what I wrote down. Luckily, the first-year advisor I was assigned was Professor Wheeler, one of our wonderful English department’s professors. From the very beginning, my time at W&L has been filled with happy accidents.

Early on, I settled into an English major. I had loved reading and writing and had always excelled in English classes; no major was a more natural fit for me. I knew that I wanted some other area of focus, but I wasn’t sure what my second major might be. I’d spent a lot of time between the ages of 8 and 14 building websites and teaching myself HTML and CSS, and I’d taken a coding class in high school, but for whatever reason I considered my affinity for computers “just a hobby.” That’s when I had another happy accident: I decided to take a Computer Science course to satisfy my mathematics FDR. After that class, I made the decision to major in both Computer Science and English. Many of my peers thought CS and English were an odd combination. Certainly there weren’t any overlapping classes between the two!

At another school, I might have run into problems trying to major in two incredibly different subjects. Not at W&L. I received nothing but support from my English major advisor, Professor Wheeler, and my Computer Science advisor, Professor Sprenkle. I was able to easily combine both majors, even finding the time to take elective courses along the way. I was given great advice by both of my advisors, but no piece of advice I’ve gotten has been more impactful than Professor Sprenkle’s suggestion that I attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Thanks to the University’s support, I’ve been able to attend for the past three years, and the University has provided the majority of the funds I’ve needed for the past two years. W&L is nothing if not committed to making these types of opportunities available to students.

Each year at Grace Hopper, I found myself realizing how badly I wanted to become a part of the technology industry. I also found that my major combination wasn’t so strange, after all. My junior year, my name was pulled out of the Grace Hopper resume database by Salesforce, largely because of my double major. Before attending the conference, I received an e-mail that said I would be a great fit for a technical writing internship, and I was encouraged to apply. At that time, I hadn’t heard of Salesforce or technical writing, and I wasn’t sure it was an area I wanted to pursue. I applied for the position, and after a phone interview and subsequent research, I realized that technical writing could be the intersection of my two majors that I had been searching for. I was offered the internship after interviewing for the position at Grace Hopper, and I took it. I spent this past summer in San Francisco discovering an amazing company and field that I hadn’t known existed. After my internship, I was positive that I wanted to go into technical writing, and I accepted an offer to return to Salesforce after I graduate. Without the university’s support to attend Grace Hopper, I don’t know if I would have ever found what I consider to be the perfect combination of my two majors.

Happy accidents, along with a lot of hard work and determination, have gotten me to where I am now. I don’t know exactly to whom or what I can attribute my slightly unconventional path, but I do know one thing for certain: I am where I am because of W&L. Every factor, from the support I’ve gotten from my advisors to the incomparable quality of the education I’ve received, has led me to where I am today. I chose W&L because of the school’s reputation as an excellent academic institution, but I couldn’t have imagined how the school’s generosity and caring faculty would help point me in the direction I find myself heading today.