Engineering student Michelle Adjangba (E '17) believes that being really into the things that she does to an almost annoying extent qualifies her as a geek. If passion is the key, then Michelle is the biggest geek of them all. In high school she played the piano, flute and guitar, was a varsity golf athlete, studied both Latin and Greek and participated in theater. Coming to Penn, however, she narrowed her geekiness down to dance and coding.
“You have to grow and learn how to code,” she said. She found her first computer science class in high school almost impossible, yet here she is now: a member of Theta Tau, Penn’s engineering fraternity, and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. Both Theta Tau and NSBE have allowed her to meet a range of engineering students. “NSBE is a community of people who truly care about each other and what they do,” she said. “They have been an incredible support system.”
Michelle expresses immense gratitude for the support and guidance of loved ones in her life. Especially her father, who has never stopped encouraging her to reach for success. Her first winter break as a clueless freshman she applied to nearly 20 summer internships with the initial push from her father. “You get two days to sleep then you have to start applying to jobs,” he told her.
As a result, Michelle received an offer to work at Facebook the following summer, with little to no experience coding mobile apps. It wasn’t long before she fell in love with Silicon Valley, subsequently returning for two more summers with the company. It has since resulted in a full time job offer after college. “Mark Zuckerberg sees me every summer, he definitely recognizes me. He’s so inspiring, because you can tell he believes in everything he says. It’s really hard when you have such a huge company and so many different opinions on how it should be run.”
Michelle worked with the iOS development team to implement and refactor the code to give you a message banner. This is the banner at the top of a message that gives you the context of who is messaging you. This small feature has had a huge impact and has set the stage for partnerships within the company.
Our geek describes the inherent Penn mindset of always trying to find the next best thing. She garnered much skepticism when people found out she would be returning to Facebook for multiple summers in a row. “I’m the kind of person who knows what she likes, and I like being there. The team is awesome and the experience is incredible. I’m excited.”
Prospects for after college have always vacillated between her two passions for performance art and computer engineering. Luckily, at Penn she has not had to choose one or the other. She knew she wanted to be in Strictly Funk, Penn’s hip–hop and contemporary dance group, from the very first time she saw them at preview days. She joined her Freshmen fall and has never looked back, now serving as the creative director of Funk. Her responsibilities include choreographing the opening and closing pieces, monitoring the creative flow of the show, and organizing it around a theme. She describes dance as her alter ego, and the way in which she has established confidence in herself.
Joining Osiris, a performing arts senior society for members of dance, theater, music and speech groups on campus, has given Michelle the opportunity to reconnect with some of the hobbies she left behind in high school. She can now immerse herself in the artistic culture at Penn all in one place. She even joined Penn Flutes in an effort to pick up her musical passions once again. The St. Elmo’s speakeasy this year was the first time she sang in front of people since coming to Penn as a Freshman. In her four years at Penn Michelle's passion has spoken for itself, proving to us all that we don’t need to put ourselves in a box.