Computer Interest and Talent Lead to Google Lime Award

An award-winner in the computer science and math field sees her field as holding promise for those with disabilities.

The Google Lime Award was created to show that nothing can stand in the way of pursuing knowledge, including a disability. Google Lime winner Serena Schaefer ’19, has not only overcome doubts about her talents, but wants to use her computer skills to break down barriers for others.

The West Windsor, N.J. sophomore is a 2017 winner of the prestigious award, which includes an academic scholarship and a trip to an annual Google Scholars’ Retreat at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif.  The award comes with the possibility of software engineering internship opportunities. Lime Connect is a non-profit organization for students who happen to have a disability, which it defines as an issue that impacts daily activities.Lime Connect points out that 90 percent of disabilities on a campus are invisible.

For Schaefer, living on the autism spectrum resulted in a lack of confidence growing up, with few goals for her future. In high school, however, she joined a robotics team with other individuals living with a disability, and “got to see how passionate they were,” she said. “We all really wanted to prove ourselves, against the stereotypes. We overheard other parents say not to expect much from our group, and wanted them to be wrong.”

Schaefer’s group successfully competed, and at the same time she developed her own passion for computer science. Along the way, she became more of a leader.

In her first year at Ursinus, which she chose for its computer science program she was named a Kemper Scholar. This summer she will go right from Chicago, where she will be at a television and radio studio exploring digital media, to Mountain View for the Goggle Lime retreat. On campus she founded the club Women in Technology and Science. She has been a student researcher in a multi-year, grant-funded cyberullying research project, focusing on software that detects cyberbullying. She explains that she knows former classmates who were bullied a lot.

Schaefer, a FUTURE research fellow connected with the Center for Science and Common Good, sees the computer science field as a boon to those with disabilities.  As a youngster, Schaefer enjoyed a television show called Cyberchase, that piqued her interest in math and computers. But, she was “told there were some things I couldn’t do.”

She has overcome that way of thinking. “Just because I have a disability, it doesn’t hold me back. It is part of me.”

Lately she has been writing about herself in creative writing classes. Her goal is to have people become more open-minded. “I’m proud of what I’ve done and I want to give back to people who got me this far,” she said. – By Wendy Greenberg