Transitioning from a band teacher to a software engineer seemed like a huge leap at first for Jennifer Burns, but things quickly started falling into place for her after she made the switch.

While she was enrolled in Oregon State’s online degree program for post-baccalaureates, she held a year-long internship with Intel in Hillsboro, Oregon. Then, working with OSU’s Career Development Center, she landed another internship with Micron in Boulder, Colorado, which led to a full-time job. As she approached graduation she applied to five graduate schools — she was accepted to all of them, but she chose to go to Carnegie Mellon to study information security where she received a full tuition scholarship and stipend through the Scholarship for Service program.

Jennifer Burns worked as a band director for several years  before returning to school to study computer science. Music has been and will remain an important part of her life. Burns is a percussionist with a degree in music education from the University of Texas at Arlington, and worked for several years in Texas as a band director. When she moved to Portland, it became more challenging to make a living in music education, and she found herself trying to balance several jobs teaching and arranging music at local high schools. It was time for a change.

“Aside from music, computer science was what I was most interested in,” Burns said.

Realizing that she did not have the prerequisites to start a master’s program in computer science, she took classes at Portland State University until she discovered the online degree program at Oregon State. She consulted with her supervisor at Intel, an Oregon State graduate, who encouraged her to make the switch.

“It was a difficult decision because I wasn't sure how learning online would work for me. I was worried about my time management skills since I was also working at Intel and teaching percussion,” Burns said.  “And I liked being at Portland State where I was meeting other students.”

But it turned out that the flexibility of Oregon State’s program and eliminating the commute to campus made her life more manageable. “I've enjoyed the fact that all the classes were available each term. When I took the algorithms class I was able to line it up with a class that was less time-intensive,” Burns said.

The online program also allowed her to move to Colorado while she continued her degree. She learned to manage her time and maintained a 4.0 GPA while working full-time at Micron and continuing to teach music when she could. She also discovered that she was able to get to know her peers through Google Hangouts. And although some women reportedly feel isolated in the computer science field, Burns had a different experience.

“When I was getting my percussion degree I was the only woman in the whole studio with around 35 students, and I felt like I needed to be ’one of the guys’ to fit in. In contrast, there were a lot of really confident women in the computer science program who I could communicate with,” she said.

Jennifer Burns talks about her experience switching to computer science.

Burns said she had an overall positive experience in the program with the instructors and especially with her advisor who was always there to answer questions. Looking back at the last three years when she decided to make the switch to computer science, she is amazed and grateful for how her life has changed.

“When I graduated high school, I knew I loved playing music and my parents were both teachers, so I chose music education because it made sense to me. I feel like that part of my life had many struggles, trying to make ends meet. Now, being able to get the internships, a full-time job, and acceptance to Carnegie Mellon — I never expected this to happen,” Burns said.

“I feel like I’ve always worked hard but finally the hard work is starting to pay off.”