Zoe Tomlinson: Confidence and caring for others shapes her future

Zoe Tomlinson


Year at UO: Freshman

Hometown: Portland

Why data science: I honestly am, at this point, just in love with the openness of data science.

Goal: I could see myself doing a lot of things, but definitely something interdisciplinary. I won’t be sitting behind a computer my whole life.

When freshman Zoe Tomlinson considered what major to declare, she found herself torn. Her passions have never been singularly focused. Before coming to the University of Oregon, she dabbled in technology, mathematics, politics, and more. But an article on the University of Oregon website about the data science major helped her come to a decision.

The major, which launched in 2020, allows students to combine math and computer science classes with a domain emphasis of their choice. For Tomlinson, it was a field brimming with opportunities.

“I can go anywhere I want with the data science major,” she says.

Tomlinson is one of the students who will be attending the Women in Data Science Conference at Stanford in March. She’ll be co-writing an article on one of the speakers, Gabriela de Queiroz, with Julia De Geest. The conference, to her, is an opportunity to explore potential paths within the field.

“Data is the future. Everything could have more data,” she says. She believes the skills she learns in her major can be applied to optimize efficiency in countless fields, including politics.

Raised in Portland, Tomlinson was surrounded by other people her age working for a better future. She credited the city for her engagement in social justice and politics. Growing up, she would discuss current events with her parents, take classes on government, and look for opportunities to give back to her community.

In high school, she participated in her school’s Constitution team, which won second place at nationals. Afterward, she put the knowledge she gathered to use at a nonprofit where teens tutored non-citizens for the U.S. citizenship test.

While her school didn’t offer computer science courses, she participated in a summer camp sponsored by the international organization Girls Who Code and continued to teach herself to program using online resources. At school, she took high-level math courses. For her calculus IB individual assessment, she combined mathematics and programming to calculate the wealth disparity in underdeveloped countries and examined policies to decrease income gaps.

In the summer of 2020, she approached her Constitution coach about ways to get involved in politics and voting efforts. He connected her to the National Vote at Home Institute. For three months, she served as a research intern to help analyze large amounts of data as she worked to identify ableist code in state constitutions.

She’s continued her interdisciplinary approach to learning in the Clark Honors College. In the fall, she took an Honors College 101 course on malaria, as well as a course called “Shakespeare & Politics.” Now, she’s studying poverty in underdeveloped countries. While her major fulfills her passion for participating in the STEM fields, the CHC lets her incorporate writing and current events into her work.

“You get to bring in all of these topics related to current events, and then also (take) high level tech classes on the side,” she says.

Tomlinson is optimistic about how the connection with the Women in Data Science Conference will uplift data science at UO. In a predominantly male field, she’s felt the pressure that comes with being a woman in tech.

“I feel like if I were to go into something else, it would be like I wasn’t good enough,” she says. Yet, if a male counterpart were to do the same, she doubts they’d be treated the same way.

“Having more female role models would show young women interested in data science that it is possible,” she says.

As she prepares to attend the Stanford conference next month, she’s eager to learn more about the paths successful women have taken to get where they are today.

“It’s what I want to do with my life,” she says of the opportunity. “I’m excited to see what everybody has to share.”

—Story by Elizabeth Yost, Clark Honors College Communications

—Photo by Ilka Sankari, Clark Honors College Communications