There must be something about hoops, Tritons and computer science. Meet Marissa Hing. The 18-year-old high school senior was on campus last weekend to attend Triton Day, when over 20,000 accepted students and their families converged on UC San Diego to get a taste of everything the university offers to its students-to-be. Despite her 5.1-inch height, Hing is also coming to play basketball on an athletic scholarship for the NCAA Division II team, after starring since her freshman year at Pinewood High School in Los Altos, CA. She has started for four years as a guard on the Pinewood team, and was just selected by the San Jose Mercury-News as its girls basketball player of the year for northern California. The paper noted that she played a leadership role in helping Pinewood reach the CCS Open Division championship game this season.
The newspaper was also impressed with what she plans to study at UC San Diego: Hing says she wants to major in computer science, even while juggling a career on the basketball court. “As of right now my major is cognitive science because the computer science major was too full,” says Hing. “But I will be trying to change my major to computer science when I can.”
Hing says she is attracted to computer science because she likes to know how things work. “It also lets you be creative while also being logical at the same time, which is something that not a lot of other fields offer,” says Hing. “It helps you understand how things work instead of just assuming they do.”
Given the demands of both b-ball and CS, it may seem an unusual pick on both counts. But someone has proved that it can be done.
Indeed, Hing is not the first girls basketball star from Pinewood to major in computer science at UC San Diego. Former Pinewood player Rachel Marty arrived in 2010 and went on to play NCAA varsity basketball on the UCSD team while pursuing a degree in CSE with a specialization in bioinformatics. She graduated magna cum laude in four years, despite also playing ball.
Marty says she played on the UCSD squad with fellow Pinewood graduate Miranda Seto, and she knows Marissa Hing well through the "Pinewood connection." "After I came to UCSD, our Pinewood coach formed a good relationship with the UCSD coaches," explains Marty. "But I have to admit that I didn't know Marissa was planning to study computer science. I can claim the basketball recruitment, not the computer science recruitment, but I'm really excited about it!"
Now a Ph.D. student in CSE since 2014, Marty says she did recruit one of her fellow basketball team members, Taylor Tanita, to switch to computer science. "I'm a big fan of the program," she observes.
Marty (pictured at right as an undergraduate varsity basketball player) continues to be a strong career example for young women, athletes and computer scientists (whether from Pinewood High School or not). Last week, she was one of only three UC San Diego computer science graduate students selected in 2015 to receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, a three-year award carrying a stipend of $34,000 per year (plus a $12,000 annual cost-of-education allowance that goes directly to the campus). Some 16,500 students nationwide competed for roughly 2,000 fellowships.
The CSE alumna is pursuing her Ph.D. in bioinformatics, and her research interests include cancer genomics, genomic algorithms and population genetics. Marty has done bioinformatics internships at Thermo Fisher Scientific (and Life Technologies, which it acquired) as well as at Illumina, where she developed an "application to centralize the experience of gene exploration for researchers." She has also done research with both CSE Prof. Vineet Bafna (in the field of genomic algorithms) and with Hannah Carter at the UC San Diego School of Medicine's Division of Medical Genetics (on cancer genomics). "I will likely choose one of them to be my advisor at the end of the year," she says. That's when the rotation period of her doctoral program ends.
But Marty has also won fans off the court and away from bioinformatics. CSE Prof. Andrew Kahng recommended her for the fellowship. She took an algorithms class with him as an undergraduate, and Kahng also supervised an independent study project when she interned at Life Technologies. "He has played a prominent role in getting me where I am," says Marty. She plans to finish her Ph.D. in 2019.