Campus News / Summer 2018

A new graduate takes flight

Julia Farrell graduated in June with a double degree in math and computer science. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

This was not what Julia Farrell had envisioned for the summer before senior year. She was supposed to be spending those few months nurturing and accelerating her startup, not stuck in an office. But when her business partner left suddenly for another team, a last-minute telecommunications internship offered an immediate option.

Feeling like a failure, she looked out the window at the airplanes taking off and landing at nearby Centennial Airport. She wanted to fly, too.

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘This sounds like a perfect Julia thing,’” says Farrell, who graduated in June. Flying had science, math, technology, excitement. After “four years of trying a million things” in college, Farrell saw the opportunity to take off and spread her wings. She signed up for flying lessons. A year later, Farrell collected her hard-earned double degree in math and computer science, topped with a minor in physics. Her head, however, is still in the clouds. Pursuing her pilot’s license, she says, is the product of an invaluable yet unpredictable college experience.

The studious high school student from North Carolina came to Denver thinking she would major in physics and work in a lab. Her career took a turn when she got a taste of computer science and realized she had a knack for it. Hesitantly, she changed her major.

Her accomplishments in the field over the next few years proved the decision wise. The ArtSpark app she co-created to promote local artists and galleries began to make money and took second place in the University’s Madden Challenge.

But her greatest achievement may be her work as co-creator of Boobi Butter — a breast salve that encourages women to perform cancer-detecting self-exams — and an accompanying app known as Norma. The products won first place in a women’s startup competition in Denver and earned third place in the international finals in Paris.

“I’m pretty proud of the way I’ve been able to dive into projects and just see what happens,” Farrell says. “Some of them fail, and you probably learn more from your failures than your successes.”

More Commencement profiles

Diana Estrada, Morgridge College of Education
Fryda Faugier, international studies
Linda Kornfeld, sociology
Gianni Di Cioccio, Josef Korbel School of International Studies
Morgan Smith, economics and public policy
Aristotle Johns, creative writing
Charlie Wallace, chemistry
Quanshuai Li, music
Sabrina Jain, finance and psychology

Try telling that to the Julia Farrell of four years ago.

“I’ve since loosened up quite a bit, actually,” she says. “I’ve relaxed a little on caring about the grades. I care a lot more about how I feel I’ve learned material. The relationships that I’ve made with friends and the clubs I’ve joined and the people I’ve met will last probably forever.”

In her four years on campus, Farrell stacked her schedule with club tennis, the alpine and climbing clubs, the Society of Physics Students and Dynamize, DU’s entrepreneurship society. As president of the Women in Computer Science Club, she worked to weld a unified cohort of females in tech.

“That’s maybe the legacy that I’m most proud of leaving here,” she says. “We’re growing a community of strong, independent, empowered women to lift each other up. I think that’s really important as women in STEM. We’re all kind of breaking this barrier together.”

In her post-DU life, Farrell will continue to work on the Norma app that turned so many heads in Paris. Her computer science skills have already captured the attention of construction companies, for which she is developing new technology. Eventually, she’d like a master’s degree.

But Farrell will not stop taxiing toward a career that combines her love for physics, math, computer science and adventure. The aspiring helicopter rescue pilot feels ready for takeoff now that she’s learned to fall, get back up and alter her course.

“If it doesn’t feel right, don’t be scared to change something,” she says. “I worked really hard, and I tried a lot of different things. I’ve definitely found ways of succeeding.”

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