Student Spotlight: Qinyuan “Olivia” Wu, ’23
In her four years as an undergraduate at JHU, Qinyuan “Olivia” Wu has changed majors, developed an app for Hopkins students, conducted cybersecurity research, established a safe space for women and nonbinary people in a male-dominated field, and mentored her peers—all while pursuing extracurriculars like group fitness instruction, dragon boat racing, photography, and poetry.
Wu graduated last month with honors, a major in computer science, and several accolades and awards—including an official Johns Hopkins University ring.
Each year, the Engaging Future Alumni Committee of the Johns Hopkins Alumni Council awards class rings to nine students—one from each division of the university—in recognition of their excellence in leadership activities and positive impact on campus and the greater community.
Wu’s ring was gifted by Alumni Council member Michael Pryzby, ’09, who was inspired by her actions: “She gave away an app, started up Women in Cybersecurity, mentors women in computer science—it’s hard for me not to support STEM, and specifically women in STEM. Giving away the app to help the school is a gift that will keep on giving. It just speaks to me.”
uCredit creates a personalized four-year degree plan and visualizes students’ progress as they fill their credit distribution requirements. After winning $2000 in funding at the FastForward U Spring 2022 Spark Showcase, the co-founders made the app open source so that future generations of Hopkins students could use it as “a sort of playground to get hands-on experience in web development,” Wu says.
This decision coincided with Wu taking a step back from web development and committing herself to cybersecurity, the focus of her upcoming master’s studies. She was introduced to the subject by the upper-level CS course Security and Privacy in Computing and further explored the field during a security engineering internship at Amazon.
She became interested in cybersecurity because she values personal privacy.
“People who are skilled in cybersecurity are scarce, and the field is becoming more and more important,” she says. “Web development is fun, but I think in terms of importance, data security and personal privacy matter more to me than developing another app.”
Shortly after her introduction to cybersecurity, Wu joined Nicole Morris, a recent graduate of the Engineering for Professionals Master of Science in Cybersecurity program, in establishing the JHU chapter of Women in Cybersecurity. WiCyS brings female and nonbinary students together, enabling them to share resources, make connections, and attend social events and technical workshops, Wu says.
Wu also mentored women in the JHU Women in Computer Science and Association for Computing Machinery chapters and worked as a study consultant on campus; she advised students on a range of topics, from their homework and academics to their personal lives and mental health. “Being able to figure out what they needed and knowing that I was able to help other people was a huge fulfillment,” she says.
Outside of these activities, her favorite undergraduate extracurriculars include group fitness and dragon boat racing. She attributes her motivation and endurance to the teamwork and camaraderie fostered by these activities.
Wu brings this collectivistic approach to her coursework, as well. “When it comes to academics and CS, I realized that sometimes you can’t just do everything by yourself; you need the ability to delegate tasks to others,” she says. “You need to be able to find people who are reliable, whom you can trust, who are capable of working with you. And you need to be someone that they’d like to work with, too, because more people doing the work together allows you all to do bigger, better work.”
Wu’s positive attitude and leadership skills secured her the CS department’s Outstanding Senior Award this year.
Wu takes her inspiration from female engineers like Grace Hopper, a computer pioneer known for her groundbreaking contributions to computer programming, and has this to say to women and nonbinary students pursuing STEM careers: “You need to have confidence. I mentored some female students, and what I’d often hear was ‘I don’t think I can do this’ or ‘It’s too much of a reach,’ even though they could definitely do it. If it were a guy, he’d be like, ‘I’ll give it a try, whatever. It won’t hurt.’ But sometimes women are more concerned, and that causes them to give up. They need to reach out more and grab the opportunities—and don’t feel ashamed about it! I sometimes sense that there’s a sense of shame, like, ‘If I grab this opportunity, if I talk to this person, if I start networking, I’ll be seen as out of line.’ But I definitely think that should not be the case. Everyone deserves to shine!”
Wu will begin her master’s in information technology – information security at Carnegie Mellon this fall but will first return to her security engineering summer internship at Amazon in Seattle—where she’s already found a dragon boat team to join.