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Ashley Pauley: Undergraduate

Computer Science and Engineering
Degree Program: 
B.S. Computer Science
Tracy, California

Ashley Pauley is a senior in computer science at UCSC. This fall quarter, she led a team of CSE 115A students to create an app that will allow community members to more easily report marine strandings, aiding in conservation efforts. Ashley spoke with us about her goals for this ambitious project, her experience as a transfer student from Cabrillo College, and her advice for fellow students.

What have you enjoyed most about being a student at UCSC?

What I have enjoyed most about being at UCSC is definitely the community here. I am a transfer student from the local junior college, Cabrillo, and I never had much of a sense of community there. I thought that would be the case here as well because I was coming in as a transfer and wouldn’t know as many people, but it was totally different. At Cabrillo I only knew one other female engineer, but here I not only know tons of other female engineers, but also I just know tons of engineers in general. I have this group of ten people that hangs out and studies together, and that is the best. 

What do you love about computer science? 

I really like the challenge of computer science. It feels to me like I am just solving puzzles. 

Tell us about the app you are working on. 

The app I am developing in CSE115A is called SOS, which stands for Save Our Species. The app is a way to file a Marine Stranding Report, and the report includes a text description of the stranding, a photo, and a GPS pin of the stranding and as soon as you finish it, it is immediately published to any marine organizations that are currently listening in from a locality standpoint.

Where did you get the idea to make a marine stranding app? 

Over the summer when I was thinking of what I might what to do in [CSE115A], I had a friend see a seal on the beach and not know what to do. She ended up finding a hotline, but it just seemed like a really outdated way to go about it. I thought we could bring some new tech into it and use all the cool tools on our phones to spread information faster. 

When marine organizations have more information, they are better able to respond to incidents in the appropriate way, and our app allows people to provide those organizations with better information.

What are the next steps for the app? 

The next step, now that we have our prototype, is to start to reach out to organizations and see what they actually need and try to focus on that rather than what we think they need. I would also like to have a data visualization feature where people could see on a map the pins of all the different reports, so you could start to get a sense of this kind of community-driven science. That is a huge inspiration behind the app- giving the community the opportunity to contribute to conservation science. 

Can you tell us about a rewarding moment you had working on this app? 

Learning new technologies is really hard, and my group and I struggled with things that we thought would be so simple. It was our first time working with remote databases, and such a huge feature of the app is to save a photo of the incident. People might not know how to descibe what they are looking at with a marine stranding, so we thought having the ability to share a photo was really important. We were getting to the end of the class and we just couldn’t figure out how to store a photo in the database. Finally, after some research, we figured out that you just have to store a url to the photo rather than the photo itself. It was a really simple thing, but it was a huge ah-hah for us and we were able to get the rest of the app working just at the deadline. 

What is your dream career?

My dream career right now, which is a driving force behind this project, is that I would really like to work in data science with a focus on conservation science. There are really cool opportunities for people to join tech in a way that is supportive to conservation efforts and tech for good efforts, and I think that it is really important that young engineers look into those opportunities, instead of limiting themselves to this idea of a high-paying job in a social media company. Other sciences need engineers’ help to improve data collection and draw better conclusions with data. 

Do you have any advice for transfer students?

Push yourself out of your comfort zone as quick as you possibly can, because meeting other people and starting to understand the structure at your new campus is really essential to being successful. I had a hard time coming out of my comfort zone at first, and so my first quarter was rough. The quicker you can just walk up to people and say hi, even though that can be really hard sometimes, the better. 

For all students, I super recommend taking a class like CSE 115A where you finally get to build something that you want to build, to start to look into that about your own brain. We are all used to doing homework assignments, so when you actually have to make that leap- it is really amazing the amount of growth that has come from that for me and my group. We all have this really cool new direction that we are excited about.