Single Mom Achieves an MS in Information Technology

Story available online: http://manchester.unh.edu/about/news/2013/single-mom-achieves-ms-information-technology

Written by Melanie Plenda, Freelance Journalist

First MS IT Graduate!

Mike Jonas (left) and Sunitha Raghurajan (right) celebrating Sunitha’s graduation.

Manchester, NH—Two kids, a full-time job and day-to-day living– Sunitha Raghurajan’s plate was full. But she wanted more. So, when she had a chance to get her Masters of Science in Information Technology from the University of New Hampshire, she took a deep breath, said so long to sleep and took a leap of faith toward her new adventure.

And now, as she prepares to walk across the stage as the first graduate from UNH Manchester with an MS in Information Technology, her plate, in the best way, is fuller than ever. Not only was she able to develop a license plate recognition system as part of her thesis, but she already landed a job as a Senior Software Engineer at Single Digits in Manchester. And all of this before graduation.

“I actually had recruiters contacting me,” she says.

Raghurajan, a resident of Concord, NH, earned her Bachelor’s degree in Engineering in India. She eventually moved to the US where she raised two boys and worked full-time as a Senior Development Engineer in Information Technology for the State of New Hampshire.

“I was getting the feeling I was kind of getting stuck,” says Raghurajan. “And I wanted to improve my knowledge of technology.”

She started looking for programs at UNH and was excited to find out that UNH Manchester not only had night classes–which would allow her to continue working and taking care of her kids– but also the IT program she was looking for.

A relatively new program at UNH Manchester, the Master of Science in Information Technology program is designed for people like Raghurajan who are already in the computing field but want to change careers or move up. The program uses a model that combines in-class and online educational activities with an emphasis on collaboration and communication among peers.

The goal is to prepare students for a professional IT or computing-related career as well as advanced studies in a computing discipline.

Once in, she got to it– working full time and taking care of her kids during the day, going to school at night and finding time for homework and projects wherever she could.

“It can be difficult to juggle all those things,” says Michael Jonas, Assistant Professor of Computing Technology Program and Engineering Technology Program at UNH Manchester. “She’s managed to work through it and always get things done.”

Yet, she always kept going. Among the things that helped, she says was the willingness on the part of her professors and advisors to get to know her. She says they were often the ones reaching out to her to find out how she was doing.

“I felt welcome anywhere here,” she says.

This was especially helpful as she got closer to her thesis. For that project, Raghurajan took two existing, open source products, OpenCV and Tessearct, and developed a license plate recognition system for NH plates, Professor Jonas explains. The idea behind project was to develop a program that would help a person locate a lost vehicle.

“Her contribution was to figure out how those systems worked, configure them through experimentation, and write Java code to automate the process,” Jonas says. “It’s a perfect Information Technology solution. She didn’t develop OpenCV or Tesseract, but instead she integrated these complex systems to create a workable solution, which is fantastic. …I loved the project and the work she did on it. She got terrific results.”

The challenge, she says, was putting all her hard work into words.

“I don’t have skills in writing, seriously, no kidding,” she says with a big laugh. “I can write a million lines of code, but when it comes to anything else, I can’t.”

But that’s where Professor Jonas came in. The two spent hours turning literally a bulleted list into a proper Master’s Thesis paper.

“It’s been a slow and difficult process for her to understand the complexities of formulating ones thoughts in a written document,” Jonas says. “But we persisted and she did get there.”

With nothing left but some paperwork and publication, Raghurajan is slated to walk in UNH Manchester’s graduation on May 16th and then, she’s off to her next adventure.

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