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Good company: Bethel student gets three days inside Google

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Who would pass up a chance to visit Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., much less turn down a three-day, all-expense-paid trip to the Googleplex? Certainly not Bethel College computer science major Andrea Nickel.

Nickel, a senior from Windsor, Colo., was one of 150 women from all over North America whom Google accepted to its Feb. 21-23 “Workshop for Women Engineers,” held in conjunction with both National Engineers’ Week and Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

Nickel became interested in computer sciences at a young age. “It’s my parents’ fault,” she says. “They gave me my first computer game in fourth grade and I liked it. Later, my dad convinced me to take Programming I at Bethel and I was pretty much stuck.

“What I really like about computer science,” she adds, “is that no matter what your interests are, you can combine them – art, literature, music, anything. It’s applicable to everything.”

Nickel heard about the Google workshop through a women’s group mailing list from the University of Massachusetts – where she spent last summer doing a distributive mentor project for the computer sciences – and was immediately interested. “I mean, Google is big,” she says. “Plus, you got a tour of the Googleplex.”

Google’s stated “commitment to encouraging women to excel in computing and technology” led the company to create this event. Eligibility requirements included being a female computer science student currently enrolled in a bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. program at a university in the United States or Canada, in any year of study, and demonstration of academic excellence and leadership in the computing field.

Nickel had to write an application essay describing what technology she would develop, if technical and financial resources were unlimited, to “impact the lives of women and girls.”

She decided to explore women’s lack of assertiveness in the workplace. “Being a fan of game technology, I proposed an online game where thousands of people can join at a time,” she says. “[It would allow women] to practice being in a business environment, [learning] how to be assertive and disagreeing openly.”

Nickel left Feb. 21 for California, where she stayed at the San Jose Fairmont Hotel, with “a bathroom about the size of my dorm room.” Over the next three days, she toured Google’s inner sanctum, the Googleplex, attended a workshop on iGoogle and Google Gadgets and worked through a professionally planned scavenger hunt.

Nickel’s initial enticement, the Googleplex, “contains four big buildings connected to each other. It has a volleyball court, pool, cafeterias – you can do your laundry, get your hair cut, take your kids to the day care center, bring your dog to work, if it doesn’t bite. They have to discourage people from actually living there.”

Nickel says she appreciated the atmosphere because it contradicts the computer science stereotype of “cubicles in a dark basement.” Instead of being in isolation, employees collaborate in groups of three to six in a designated work space.

“It was a very friendly environment,” she says, “creative and smart.”

Nickel attended workshops with Sophia Brueckner and Cynthia Wong. Brueckner’s focused on iGoogle and Google Gadgets, which allow you to personalize your Google home page. Brueckner’s mission in life is to “make the world a cuter place,” Nickel says. Wong works with the iGoogle infrastructure, trying to make Web pages load faster.

Perhaps the most valuable parts of the experience for Nickel were seeing the interview process at Google and meeting other women in the computer sciences. “I met women from the U.S., Canada, China, Korea and Jordan,” she says. “[Having] company is nice.”

Nickel was “able to get to know other women especially well” during a rainy scavenger hunt in San Francisco. The groups took flip phones and cameras to receive various clues and to chart their progress.

One of the craziest tasks took Nickel’s group to a cathedral where they had to comfort a crying woman in a wedding dress who had been stood up at the altar by “Bob.” To successfully complete this task, the group eventually had to resort to chasing the “bride” through the streets of San Francisco.

Nickel’s experience was so enjoyable that she hopes to intern for a summer at Google. But, she acknowledges, “there will probably be a lot of competition.” At least, about 150 other women.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

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