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Computer Science

Written by Anna Christensen, '22

The COVID crisis has presented a unique challenge to the incoming freshman of the Honors College. Without in-person events or classes, it can be easy for freshmen to take a step back, to let their Honors involvement wait until JMU returns to normal. This is not the case with one of Honors’ most involved freshmen - Amber Oliver. With a Major in Computer Science and double minors in Data Analytics and Honors from Loudon country, Virginia, Amber has taken full advantage of her bizarre freshman year.  

Pushing herself is hardly something new to Amber - in high school she was a part of an exchange program to Heidelberg in the summer of 2017 through the George C Marshall Center, an international relations center in Leesburg, Virginia. She’s kept in touch with her host family, returning to Germany often to visit them and the surrounding area. This love of German culture initially made her want to go to Heidelberg University, and the program launched her interest in studying abroad, which she will continue as part of the Honors College Oxford program. The program’s self-taught approach appeals to her immensely: “I like the one-on-one experience!” she laughed. “I feel like I’m gonna have a lot of Harry Potter vibes.”  

So, what pushed Amber to make the effort to put her name out there in the Honors College, despite the reality of Zoom fatigue? “I know how important it is to make connections”, she said. “With COVID, it’s impossible to get close to anyone.” But Amber is determined to look towards the future, not wanting to feel out of place when in-person classes resume, as well as wanting to learn more about the Honors College community. So, her first Fall semester was spent going to online social events facilitated by Dr. Davis or reading the weekly update emails sent out by the Honors College to stay informed of events and vital information.  

Perhaps the crowning accomplishment of her first semester is her involvement with the Madison Honors Leadership Council (MHLC). First hearing about the program in one of the Honors College weekly updates, she saw it as “a great way to meet people” that would “make [Honors] feel smaller”. Through MHLC, she’s been involved with advocacy talks, donated to the Food Pantry at JMU, and sees it as her goal to give back to the Harrisonburg community as “Harrisonburg is my home now.” Going forward, Amber aims to hold a leadership position within MHLC and her sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha. 

Her dedication to service led to her rushing Alpha Sigma Alpha, a philanthropic organization. Events that she’s been a part of range from Relay for Life to Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Special Olympics. Amber explains that the sorority encourages each member to reach out and involve other members of the JMU student body. 

Post-grad, Amber’s main goal is to work for NASA or Elon Musk, as going to space is her “number one goal”. When she started planning her college career, it was based around the questions of “what will land me a job at NASA?” Her love of space reached new heights when she watched the movie Interstellar, which she said, “changed my life... [she realized] this is what I want to do.” Every night she would delve into her own personal research, reading articles about everything she could come across.  

As for the Honors College, Amber hopes to look back and see that her time, even that which COVID complicated, was time well spent. “When I leave,” she admitted, “I don’t want to regret not doing anything.” She speaks of hearing seniors talk about all the things they wished to get involved with, to “meet as many people as possible”, and looks forward to creating her Honors Capstone (space related, most likely). Amber also feels more prepared for the Capstone due to taking AP Capstone in high school, where she believes she made the beginner mistakes of choosing a subject she was not interested in. With the initial hurdles overcome, she is eager to tackle the project and give it her fullest effort. 


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