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Internship leads to computer science position for recent UT Martin grad

05-14-2018

Contact 1: Bud Grimes

 



MARTIN, Tenn. – Dedication in the classroom has its rewards for college students as they prepare for careers, but making real-world connections before graduation can create important opportunities. Annabelle Cormia worked hard to earn a computer science degree, which she received May 5 during commencement exercises at the University of Tennessee at Martin. However, reaching out to a university alum is what paved the way for the internship that earned Cormia a full-time position with Cigna Insurance. She will begin her new career in July at the company’s headquarters in Connecticut.

“I’m very excited. I’m a little nervous about starting the next chapter of my life, but overall, I’m very, very excited,” said Cormia, whose college experience began in fall 2014 following her graduation from Westview High School in Martin. However, her interest in computer science began in 2012 when she attended the five-week Governor’s School for Emerging Technologies at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. This experience introduced her to computer programming, and she began to consider college majors that would lead to opportunities in the programming field. Her search led her to computer science and UT Martin.

“I liked that (computer science) was a developing field with a lot of opportunity and the fact that there are opportunities in every industry, whether it’s health care or security,” she said. “You can work anywhere you want to.” The university’s bachelor’s degree program in computer science prepares graduates for various technical positions or graduate studies in computer science. The program achieved a significant milestone in fall 2017 by earning independent accreditation for the first time from the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET.

Computer science exposes students to challenging academic work and is similar in many ways to electrical engineering. “I think the most challenging part for me has been the theory behind the practical applications,” Cormia said. “It was kind of challenging because you have to know why you’re doing everything before you do it. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but once I did I was really grateful for that skill.”

In recent years, students in the program have been encouraged to venture outside of the classroom and participate in regional computer science competitions and internships. The university has served as a host site for two years for the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, a competition in which Cormia has participated. She sees this experience as a way to learn valuable problem-solving skills. “You really learn how to break problems down into each of their parts and work through them to come to a final conclusion,” she said.

A life-changing break came for Cormia when she sought a computer science internship during her junior year. Students are responsible for arranging internships, and the search can be intense. “I probably ended up applying to 30 or so (internships), but I also started reaching out to alumni who I knew had graduated from the computer science program,” she said. “And I kind of found out where they were working, if their company offered any internships, where I could apply, if they could offer me a reference or referral, and so this led me to contact Chauntrell Clay.”

Clay is employed by Cigna Insurance in Nashville and completed the company’s internship program during her time at UT Martin. She was Cormia’s peer counselor in the university’s Peer Enabling Program, which groups freshmen with similar academic interests under the guidance of a faculty mentor and a PEP leader. Clay graduated in 2015 with a computer science degree and, although Clay and Cormia eventually became friends, she had another reason to remember Cormia, who was one of only two females in the PEP group of approximately 25 computer science students. Clay encouraged Cormia to apply for the Cigna internship program, and she was accepted. Cormia spent the summer of 2017 working at Cigna’s headquarters in Bloomfield, Connecticut, near the state capital of Hartford.

The company website describes Cigna as “a global health service company with 95 million customers around the world and more than 40,000 employees worldwide.” Cormia was assigned to the company’s security engineering team, which performs security reviews for internally developed computing applications. Her impressive work performance earned her a job offer and will take her back to Bloomfield this summer for a full-time position as a member of the cloud engineering team that maintains the company’s cloud resources. “I’m really excited to be joining that team,” she said. “I think I’m going to be exposed to a lot of new things and a lot of new technology. … I’m really excited to get experience in that.”

Things are happening quickly for Cormia, and she knows some adjustments lie ahead as she prepares to work full time in a different part of the country. “I wasn't sure how I was going to feel in a corporate environment, but I really liked the security and the structure of it,” she said of her internship experience. Cormia also isn’t too concerned about moving from the South to the Northeast, although she knows that the culture and the food are a little different. “I’ve never been much of a food person anyway, but there is a severe lack of sweet tea,” she said as she laughed.

Cormia can now look back on her academic experience and appreciate how it has prepared her for what lies ahead. “I think the computer science program at UTM has really done a great job of laying a foundation for me to build on,” she said. Her keys to success are simple common sense: “I think that all it comes down to is that you have to work hard (and) stay focused. You have to ask for help when you need it even when you don’t want to. You have to surround yourself with good people, and you have to be kind. But I think that holds true for any area you choose to study.”

Cormia’s recent successes make sense for Dr. Joshua Guerin, associate professor and interim chair for the university’s Department of Computer Science. “I have had the opportunity to work with Annabelle from her very first semester in Freshman Studies to her final semester at UT Martin,” he said. “I know Annabelle to be a hard worker who gets along well with both professors and student colleagues. … I was not surprised at all when she told me that her supervisors (at Cigna) were so impressed with her work that they decided to offer her a full-time position in their cloud engineering team.”

Cormia's family will remain in Tennessee when she leaves for her new home in Connecticut, but they will make big changes as well. Cormia's family will leave Martin and return to the Knoxville area where they are originally from. Her mother, Susan, has worked at UT Martin for the past six years, but she has recently accepted a position in the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UT Knoxville. Her father, Ross, is currently a manufacturing engineer at Nortek in Dyersburg; and her brother, Riley, is a recent graduate of Westview High School and will attend UT Knoxville starting this fall. "They seem genuinely excited for me to have this opportunity to live and work somewhere new, and to have a new adventure."

Cormia heeded her own advice when she sought help to secure the internship that led to her first job right out of college. And, although Connecticut’s supply of sweet tea might be lacking, Annabelle Cormia has earned an even sweeter opportunity to begin her career with a company that allows her to pursue her passion in computer science.

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MARTIN, Tenn., May 14, 2018 – COMPUTER SCIENCE GRAD – Annabelle Cormia (center) is pictured May 5 before UT Martin commencement with her father, Ross, and her mother, Susan.

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