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Demeara Torres wants to teach young people a foundation in computing

demeara torres

Demeara Torres is pursuing a major in computer science, but is also passionate about a project she is working on in the Department of History -- as seen in this photo -- transcribing letters from the University's archive of letters, diaries and other documents from the family of William Henry Seward, a former New York governor and secretary of state in the Lincoln administration.

Up until the summer before her senior year in high school, Demeara Torres ‘18 had little experience with computers other than browsing the internet.

However, that summer she was accepted into the Girls Who Code program.

“We went for eight weeks. Eight hours a day, five days a week, just like it was a job,” she explained.  “It was like a crash course in computer science. It was the first time in my life where something was both challenging and yet rewarding.”

Now Torres is pursuing a degree in computer science at the University of Rochester, hoping to one day teach high school students a solid foundation of skills to pursue their own careers in computing.

In the meantime, she’s enjoying the opportunities the University offers its students to pursue the interests they arrived with – and to discover new ones.

 For example, Torres, who is from New York City, recently joined the In Between the Lines student improv group – despite having no previous acting experience.

“My first semester of freshmen year, I saw them put on a show, and fell in love with them,” she explained. After three auditions, Torres was accepted. Once a month, she and a partner stand on stage waiting for someone in the audience to randomly choose a word, like “banana.” They then have to improvise a scene based on the word.

For a lot of people that would be a terrifying experience. Not for Torres, who relishes a challenge. “I can’t stand being too long in the same comfort zone.”

The past tells you what's going on today

Torres is pursuing her interest in American history by working with Prof. Thomas Slaughter on a unique project, digitizing the University’s archive of diaries, letters, and other papers from the family of William Henry Seward (1801-1872), a noted trial attorney, governor of New York, U.S. Senator, and secretary of state under presidents Lincoln and Johnson.

Slaughter offered her a paid position with the project after interviewing Torres for a scholarship. Torres has transcribed somewhere between 50 and 100 handwritten letters, she estimates, and wants to stick with the project until she graduates.

“There is so much you can learn about the past that really tells you what is going on today,” Torres said.  “I read these letters from the 1800s and some of these problems are still with us today. The husband who is always working; the wife who is sick; the children who do not know how to get their parents’ attention.

“There’s this idea that all women were weak in the past, but you read these letters and you learn that, yes, they lived in more oppressive society, but there were so many women who were strong in many ways.“

"I want to help young people'

She is a member of the D’lion student service organization, whose upperclassmen live in freshmen residence halls to help promote hall spirit and create a comfortable living atmosphere.  Torres says the benefits cut both ways: She loves helping a freshman resolve a scheduling problem, and then seeing “that look of happiness on her face.” Torres, in turn is buoyed by the boundless energy and optimism of the incoming students, which “helps me realize why I love the University.”

 She is also working with students in Women in Computing to set up a Girls Who Code group at the university to mentor Rochester city school pupils.

“Everyone says computer science is going to be so important, but I don't think enough people who love education and computer science are going to be teachers. It's a hard decision to make; people want to go into industry where they can make so much money. But if you want young people to go into computer science, you need to give them as much of a foundation as possible.”

That’s her mission: as a mentor now, as a teacher in the future.

“I want to help young people get that foundation.”