Up until four years ago, Rhea Banerjee had never taken a computer science course. Now, she is graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a dual major in Computer Science and Cognitive Science, with a focus on unlocking big data.

She credits Rensselaer with helping her unlock her own potential. “I think I’m a lot smarter now than when I came in, but outside of academics, I think I’ve grown a lot as a person,” Banerjee said. “Now I have a voice.”

She’s used that voice to advocate for fellow students, serving on the student government all four years of college. She began as a write-in candidate for the Student Senate her freshman year. She served as Senate treasurer, then undergraduate councilor, and then vice president. She was elected undergraduate president her junior year. It was a role she enjoyed. “I think the best part of that role is just being able to guide people in the right direction and try to make this campus community feel a little bit more inclusive for everyone,” Banerjee said.

Inclusion was especially important during the pandemic, when new safety measures separated students from one another. “We had a lot of time apart,” Banerjee said. She wanted to keep students connected, even when they could only meet virtually. When the restrictions were finally lifted, the gatherings were emotional. “It is awesome to see 100 people who are in the same cohort, going through the same exact thing, finally meet each other for the first time,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee is also a member of the women’s varsity soccer team. For her, soccer has been a way to build lifelong friendships. The team practices five days a week, and spends weekends traveling to and from games. It’s a lot to manage on top of classes, but Banerjee says it’s also nice to be surrounded by people who love the game and share her commitment. “My teammates are also my roommates. We’ve been together since freshman year, and they are some of my best friends,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee was determined to make the most of her college experience, and she’s done just that. “When I came in my freshman year, there was so much that I hadn’t done. I wasn’t part of clubs in high school. I just played soccer and that was it.” Banerjee knew college might be her last opportunity to explore new areas without risk – after all, if she went to an event or meeting and she didn’t like it, she could just leave. The net effect of this mindset has been metamorphic. “I think the person I came in as four years ago, and the person I am today are two totally different people. If you had told me when I came in my freshman year that I would end up being undergrad president, that I would be able to speak to people, that I would be able to code and understand when people talk about code, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Banerjee said. “I have just grown up so much. I’ve figured out who I am.”