Doctoral student marvels at the ‘What if?’

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A. Sue Weisler

Erika Mesh, a computing and information sciences doctoral student, likes the direction RIT is heading on research and hopes to give back to the university that has given her so much.

Professors at RIT call Erika Mesh a perpetual student. For the past 17 years, the undergraduate software engineer turned computing and information sciences doctoral student has called RIT her second home. 

Mesh earned her bachelor’s degree in software engineering in 2002 and after nine years in the industry and starting a family, she decided to follow her passion in academia full-time.

For the New Orleans native, her first
 memories of RIT came in the form of an 
admissions videotape that she received when applying to colleges in 1996.

“The 1980s-style video was a horrible 
collection of guys in boring labs with pocket protectors,” said Mesh. “Once I actually came to visit the campus, I realized that RIT was amazing and I would be treated like a real
 person and not just a number.”

As a member of the second graduating class of software engineers, Mesh has seen a significant change in computing education at RIT. You can even find her in photos at the groundbreaking for the computing college. After graduation, she spent nearly five years at Harris RF Communications, designing
 embedded systems for military radios, and four years at PAETEC, working on online sales support software. 

“While I was working I got involved with the Industrial Advisory Board for the software engineering department,” said Mesh. “One day while talking with Professor Scott Hawker, I decided that I wanted to come back and work on my master’s full time.” 

What started as a one-year hiatus from work for a master’s degree turned into a 
full-time doctorate degree when Mesh was 
accepted into the Ph.D. program in 2012. She was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation in 2013. Her research focuses on the software engineering processes that other research scientists use when designing scientific software. 

“While many research scientists, such as chemists or biologists, leverage software to analyze large data sets, they are often not trained in the best practices of software 
engineering that can prevent software bugs,” said Mesh. “These bugs can have devastating effects on the data, often delaying work and sometimes resulting in the retraction 
of research.”

Using basic software testing techniques, such as unit testing and source control, these bugs can be detected and prevented. By learning how scientists use software, Mesh hopes to offer a Scientific Software Process Improvement Framework that acts as 
a set of guidelines to help scientists make 
effective decisions about how they write 
their software. 

“We can also start to change software 
engineering education in a way that helps bridge the gap between research scientists 
and computer science,” said Mesh.

At home, Mesh enjoys spending time with her husband, Nate, who is also a 2002 software engineering alumnus, and their 4-year-old daughter, Fiona. When not buried in research, Mesh serves as the chair of the Graduate Student Advisory Committee, where she hopes to find ways to get graduate students more integrated into the future of RIT. She also finds time to relax with Bucky, her off-the-track thoroughbred horse.

“Ideally, I’d love to teach after I finish the doctorate program,” said Mesh. “If you are a perpetual student like me, academia is the perfect environment because whenever a ‘What if?’ question pops into your head, you get to go look into it.”