Myra Dotzel uses lessons in visual art to solve problems in STEM

Myra Dotzel

majors: computer science + mathetmatics

minor: visual art

There’s a common stereotype that those who are creatively gifted are naturally bound to pursue arts and the humanities, while students skilled in math and logic are more well-suited for career paths in STEM. But for KU senior Myra Dotzel, these different areas of interest presented not so much a choice but a question: Why not do both?

The daughter of two mathematicians, Myra grew up with an appreciation of the beauty of creative problem-solving in various forms — from visual artwork to numerical analysis and programming language. And as a computer science and mathematics major with a visual art minor, she’s applying her unique perspective and lessons from her fields of study — which she views as complementary, rather than as opposing forces — to tackle challenges and make the world a better place. 

Where are you from? And why did you decide to come to KU?

I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. I love St. Louis, but having spent my whole life there, I longed for a new adventure away from home. KU has challenged me to grow outside my comfort zone and to tackle issues in my areas of study. I chose KU because I love the friendly culture and school pride that Jayhawks contribute both on and off campus. Additionally, KU was also one of the few universities that encouraged me to pursue a minor in painting in addition to my two other majors. KU’s passion for interdisciplinary studies was one of the most important factors in making my decision.

Why did you choose your majors and minors? And how do they complement each other? Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study?

All my life, I have been surrounded by mathematics. Both my parents are math professors, so passion for mathematics is kind of in my blood, so to speak. But to say I have followed in their footsteps is not entirely true. In fact, growing up, I wanted to explore my own interests and dreamed of becoming an artist. I started painting lessons in fourth grade, and thus began my passion for visual arts. This activity continues to stimulate my creativity even today, but in my senior year of high school I realized that I longed for another source of fulfillment. At the time, I was enrolled in Calculus 2, and my passion for the material just hit me. I immediately fell in love with the beauty and rigor of the coursework. That was when I decided I wanted to become a math major. My interest in computer science came into play my junior year of high school when I took my first computer science course. My high school’s programming course would not fit into my schedule, so I sought permission to take the equivalent course at a local university. In this course, I became captivated by the mathematical nature of computer science, which continues to motivate my work today.

What is the most exciting part of your majors and minor? What do you think is most valuable about your experiences in these programs?

The most exciting part of getting to study the combination of mathematics, computer science, and visual arts is getting to solve problems in all three of these fields. Specifically, my visual arts minor has trained my visual thinking capabilities which aids my ability to visualize problems in my other fields of study. My experiences in these all three of these fields helps me develop novel approaches to solving problems and challenges me to see the world through a unique perspective.

What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers a breadth of knowledge from a myriad of different fields. Being surrounded by others who are just as passionate about their own work is inspiring and refreshing. All my peers have a unique perspective to offer and the diversity of majors represented in the College stimulates such creativity.

What has been your favorite class at KU? And why?

Every course I’ve taken has shaped me into a more critical thinker and I have thoroughly enjoyed my coursework. However, my favorite course has been Math 765, Mathematical Analysis I, with Dr. Mat Johnson. I took this course in my junior year and worked harder for this course than I have for any single class in my entire life. I learned so much and developed an even deeper appreciation for mathematics. This course also made me realize my love of analysis and proof-based techniques, which I hope to explore further in my graduate studies.

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

Dr. Suzanne Shontz has been my advisor, professor, and research mentor through my journey at KU. I am grateful for her support and mentorship towards my research. Because of her mentorship, I had the opportunity to present my work at research conferences, which has inspired my interest in pursuing research in graduate school. I have grown a tremendous amount personally, professionally, and academically thanks to her guidance.

Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or any other learning experiences you’d like to share? If so, what was that like?

I worked as a Software Engineering Intern at Garmin the summer after my sophomore year. I truly enjoyed my time there and made new friends and connections along the way. Garmin’s casual and fun culture combined with my interest in research has inspired me to pursue a research career in industry. This summer, I completed a (virtual) REU in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. An REU is like a research-based internship that is sponsored by NSF and often held by a university. Although it was online, I still got a good taste of CMU’s culture. I loved the collaboration among students and professors on research projects and how everyone is so passionate about their work.

What would you tell your freshman self?

Do not be afraid to put yourself out there! Sometimes it can be hard to feel we can express ourselves and our interests without fear of judgement. I found that putting myself out there and engaging in new experiences helped me adapt to college life, make new friends, and have memorable experiences.

Do not be afraid to put yourself out there! ... I found that putting myself out there and engaging in new experiences helped me adapt to college life, make new friends, and have memorable experiences.

What do you want to do when you graduate?

After graduation, I will be pursuing a PhD in computer science. My emphasis will be in programming languages, a field of computer science that boasts the beauty of mathematical logic and theory through real-life application. After graduate school, I hope to pursue a research-based career either in industry or academia. 

What motivates you?

I am motivated by my potential to do good for others around me and my love of problem-solving. My community has given me so much, and I aspire to use my aptitude for problem-solving to make the world a better place.

Be like Myra. Look for creative ways to combine your areas of interest. Meet more of our students here. For more information, explore the departments of Mathematics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Visual Art at the University of Kansas.