From studying Latin to playing ultimate frisbee, incoming computer science freshman Abby Criswell has always had “this weird of habit of getting into loads of crazily different things that … don’t seem to have any connection.” As a future Turing Scholar, Dean’s Scholar and pre-medical student, she wants to continue making unusual connections by combining her interests in coding and medical technology.
Starting this fall as a computer science major at UT, Criswell graduated in May from Westlake High School as the president of Westlake’s Latin Club, a National Merit Finalist, a National AP Scholar, and “Student of the Year” in four of her classes during her junior year. She is the recipient of the Bransford Trust Forty Acres Scholarship, making her a part of the Forty Acres Scholar Program Class of 2022. The scholarship program, administered by the Texas Exes, offers a close-knit community of fellow scholars and provides funding for college and living expenses. This year, nearly 6,500 students applied for the Forty Acres Scholars Program, and Criswell was one of the 21 students chosen.
“Throughout the selection process, the words passionate, driven, motivated, and vision were used to describe these students,” said director of scholarships Kristy Parks in the Forty Acres Scholars announcement. “They will join our diverse scholar community, currently comprised of 70 scholars on campus and 36 alumni, who embody the university’s core values and are committed to UT’s mission of transforming lives for the benefit of society.”
With Longhorn parents, a sister who will be a junior at UT and a cousin who graduated from the Turing Scholars program, and after living in Austin for most of her life, Criswell always saw herself attending UT.
“I was always wearing burnt orange, and by just learning more about the college through the college application process, I really saw what made it so great, and that made me want to be here,” she said. “All of the people who I’ve met at UT are amazing. They’re so smart, they’re so dedicated, they’re so kind, I feel like the whole experience is going to be great all around.”
She is excited about the opportunities available at UT’s computer science program and is looking forward to being a part of the Turing Scholars program and participating in research.
“With Turing and with Deans and with Forty Acres, there are going to be so many great opportunities at UT to just go out there and do things and get that hands-on experience and make that impact, and I’m so excited about that,” she said.
In her sophomore year of high school, Criswell first learned to program with Java in a computer coding class before she had a personal laptop or any advanced knowledge of computers.
“I really started making my own code … and eventually it got to be just me sitting down at a computer and making my own program,” she said. “It was like, ‘computer, do this,’ and then the computer would do the thing, and I was like, ‘Yes! I can do the thing!’ It was such a proud moment to build something and create with just your own power.”
After that, she took a second and third year of computer science classes. Most recently, she has been working on a game design and graphics project.
“Now I’m doing independent study practice at my high school, so it’s just 50 minutes a day sitting down and writing a coding project that I’m passionate about,” she said.
Through Dean’s Scholars, Criswell will take chemistry and biology classes and is considering double-majoring in mathematics. She also wants to “test the waters” of the pre-med program in order to combine her interests in computer science and the medical field.
Although she is not yet entirely sure what kind of research she wants to do or where she wants to go with computer science, Criswell is looking forward to learning and discovering her passion while at UT.
“I don’t know where computer science will take me, but mixing (computer science and medicine), they seem to complement each other so well,” she said. “I know what I think my plans are, but I know college is a huge time for change and discovery, so they’re not set in stone.”