Class of 2019: Erica Kok Soars in STEM

Erica Kok interned for Microsoft and Facebook, and received two scholarships from Google. But the computer science major isn’t going to work for a big tech company after graduation.

Erica Kok

Instead, she accepted a job as a software engineer with JPMorgan Chase, where she interned last summer. She will start work in Seattle in late July.

“At JPMorgan Chase, they actually gave me a lot of work to do and I feel like I had a lot more impact,” said Kok, adding that she received about 10 job offers before graduation.

The global banking and financial services company initially offered Kok a position in New York City, where she interned. But Kok asked if she could work in Seattle, where her mother and brother now live.

Before she starts, she will fly home to the Philippines to visit her father and extended family. Born in the Philippines, she moved to DeLand with her mother and brother when she was 16. She planned to study accounting at Stetson and applied for every scholarship that she could find during her senior year at DeLand High School.

She received a scholarship from Google, which came with three weeks at its computer science summer institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She liked the experience so much that she changed her major to computer science before she even enrolled at Stetson.

Over the next few years, Kok interned for Facebook and Microsoft, and was selected for another Google scholarship, this one for $10,000 in the Women Techmakers Scholars Program. That same year, she received a scholarship from Microsoft, too.

But her career aspirations shifted slightly when she accepted a summer internship with JPMorgan Chase last year in New York City. She was offered the internship after winning first place in the company’s Code for Good Challenge in Chicago in 2017, where her team built a web application for an underprivileged public middle school in the city.

Erica Kok at Google office
Erica Kok was one of 20 students in North America to be awarded a $10,000 scholarship by Google’s Women Techmakers Scholars Program.

“Apart from just wanting to live in New York for a summer, I also loved the fact that they do events and programs like this to give back to society and their community, and that was also a huge part of my decision to intern for them and ultimately go back full-time,” Kok added.

After the internship, she studied abroad in Denmark and was able to travel throughout Europe on long weekends during fall semester.

“It has been a crazy experience,” she said shortly before graduation. “Four or five years ago, I never would have imagined myself doing anything I’m doing right now at all. My mom always used to tell me just take every opportunity that you can while you have them, so I guess that’s just what I’ve been doing. …

“I just kept moving forward and took every single opportunity that came and Stetson has definitely helped me with a lot of these opportunities. I wouldn’t be where I am without all the resources and all the people who have supported me on campus for the past four years. I’m really grateful for that.”

Erica Kok outside Facebook office
Erica Kok interned at Facebook in the summer of 2016.

During her time at Stetson, she was active in the annual Hackathon and started a campus group for Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). She was an officer in the Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC), and served as a Student Ambassador, meeting with prospective students and their families, and as a World Ambassador, promoting Study Abroad at Stetson.

She recalled arriving at Stetson as a first-year student and deciding to go see Tim Stiles, executive director of Career and Professional Development. The two met multiple times, going over her resume and practicing for interviews for jobs and internships. All those practice sessions would end up paying off.

“If I hadn’t met with Tim Stiles my freshman year, I don’t think I would have done well on those interviews that I did. Stetson has that opportunity, and not a lot of people usually think about taking that opportunity and it’s just right here,” she added.

She also worked closely with her professors in the Math and Computer Science Department on two research projects, utilizing machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence that involves programming machines to learn by themselves once given certain information.

One project, conducted with three other students, used machine learning to try to identify fake news. The project, guided by faculty advisers Joshua Eckroth, Ph.D., and Daniel Plante, Ph.D., was selected by the Computing Research Association for research funding through its 2017-2018 Collaborative Research Experiences for Undergraduates (CREU) program.

For her senior research project, she worked with Professor Hala ElAarag to use machine learning to detect when seizures are about to occur, using a person’s patterns of brain signals on an electroencephalogram (EEG) over time. Kok hopes a hardware device can one day be developed to alert a person even before they start to show symptoms.

Erica Kok

Kok plans to employ machine learning in her new job with JPMorgan Chase on its commercial banking teams, which is looking to automate more functions. “I’m really excited about that,” she said about using machine learning.

During her time as a Student Ambassador, Kok said she always ended her campus tours with prospective students by telling them about why she loves Stetson.

“The reason that I came to Stetson and the reason why I’m doing so well is because every single person I’ve met here on campus has genuinely wanted me to succeed and they really helped me to get there. They’re happy for all my accomplishments, and whenever I get a bad grade or have a bad day, people are always around me and encouraging me and lifting me up,” she said.

“So it’s really a community, almost like a family. Yeah, it is a family,” she continued. “It’s what I love about Stetson. It’s why I love being here so much.”

-Cory Lancaster