College of Computing Student Merging Passions for Art and Computer Science

Marguerite Murrell wears her creativity on her sleeve. Literally.

On the inside of her left forearm – bright orange, yellow, and green like the changing plumage of the surrounding autumn trees – she bears a sunflower tattoo, a Fibonacci spiral emerging from its center. It’s an appropriate convergence for Murrell, who, like the tattoo, finds a way to combine creativity, art, and the natural world with her interest in concrete numbers and equations.

Murrell is currently in her third year pursuing a Computer Science degree in the College of the Computing. She doesn’t necessarily come from a technological background, unless you include the use of computer applications or the interest in topical Netflix documentaries that she shares with her dad. What she does have, though, is a unique perspective on the field, which she is hoping to effectively marry with her interest in the arts.

Growing up, the latter was her passion.

She was in third or fourth grade the first time she participated in a theater class in Peachtree City, where she spent most of her childhood. She and a friend had decided to join the program together, which provided classes once each week over the course of a few months. At the end, each student got to perform a monologue. She performed the classic Peanuts bit, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron.”

“I think I was pretty bad,” she recalled, “but for an 8-year old, I guess it was alright. I don’t remember the whole thing, but I remember ending it standing and throwing my fists in the air screaming at the Red Baron. I didn’t even know what a “red baron” was. I just knew it said to do it ‘angrily.’”

Not long after, she joined chorus in school. She sang, did musical theater, and added chorus and art in middle and high school.

“That was a path I considered coming into college,” she said. “I took AP art in high school, and that let me build a huge portfolio. So I had a hard time finding my niche coming in to college, really deciding which path I wanted to take.”

First, she chose Industrial Engineering. And while she loved the school, after her first year at Georgia Tech, she found that it wasn’t the right path for her.

Around that same time, she took a computer science elective. She was admittedly terrified at the prospect of taking the class. To assuage those feelings, she researched the material herself during the holidays before the spring semester of her first year.

“I learned Python beforehand because I was so scared I wouldn’t get it in class,” she said. The result? “It made that class a breeze. I decided I was better at computer science than I was at industrial engineering, so I made the switch.”

Turns out, it was a welcome change. By her description, computer science fit her artistic inclinations much more than her previous major. And, after some early difficulty in adjusting to a new major — an extremely challenging one at that — she feels like she has finally gotten a foothold on the material. Using her artistic nature has helped her find an objective she can pursue.

“People and media are my two threads,” she said. “Those are the two things that are closest to something graphics- or user interface-driven. How people interact with programs, how they look, how easy they are to use. I think that’s where more artistically-minded computer science majors go.”

Despite not having a background in computer science, her artistic nature has been an advantage in many ways. While you can learn the languages of computers through time in class or research on the internet, approaching the major with a more creative mindset is not something that is teachable.

“I learned Java script over the summer on my own,” she said. “You can learn to do all those things, but maybe it isn’t as easy to teach a more abstract, creative way of thinking. It helps you to think outside of the box a little bit. You look at an application someone has coded, and there are a million different ways they could have done it. It’s just a matter of how their mind worked to create it.”

She still finds time to feed her need for the arts. She sings with the Georgia Tech women’s a Capella ensemble “Nothin’ But Treble,” an extracurricular she said was portrayed quite realistically in the movie “Pitch Perfect.” She still finds time to work on her art, staying up late into the night every once in a while to work on her projects. She has found occasion to trade in paper and canvas for an iPad screen, another sign of the mental shift she has made since coming to college.

For those like her, who have interest in computer science but haven’t spent their adolescence poring over code or motherboards she offers this advice:

“Jump in headfirst,” she said. “I was intimidated switching in to the major, but you can’t let that stop you from just jumping in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find where you fit in and have a passion for it.”

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David Mitchell

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