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Q++ co-chair Joe Spaniac focuses on building community as a vital part of the college experience

Joe Spaniac

Our latest undergraduate student spotlight features Sammamish, Washington native Joe Spaniac, a second year computer science major admitted under the Allen School’s expanded Direct to Major admission pathway who is also majoring in drama. During his first quarter at the Allen School, he knew he wanted to be a part of Q++, a student organization for LGBTQIA+ members studying in the Allen School. He has served as a member of the board since then and currently co-chairs the group with Lavinia Dunagan. Despite the challenges of meeting and holding events virtually this year, Spaniac enjoys being a part of the group and all that it does for students in the Allen School.

Allen School: What is the mission of Q++?

Joe Spaniac: Overall, our mission with Q++ is to raise awareness of the issues that LGBTQIA+ members face in the field of computer science and provide a place that anyone and everyone can feel welcome and supported regardless of gender expression or sexual orientation. This year especially, we are really focused on the second half of that mission statement due to the many social challenges that come with, seemingly, an entirely online school year. Very frequently, members of the community really look forward to the typical “college experience” as an opportunity to reinvent themselves and sometimes even escape households that might not accept them as their true selves. Although Q++ may not be able to entirely replace this experience, we hope to be a good intermediate option while we all wait for things to return to normal.

Allen School: Why do you think it’s important to have an organization like Q++ at the Allen School?

JS: Speaking from personal experience, the UW is massive, and it’s very easy to feel lost and isolated without supportive friends. For this reason, social organizations like Q++ are vital in providing students, especially ones that might struggle to immediately befriend a group of peers, a community. Additionally, Q++ has the potential to amplify and empower the voices of many LGBTQIA+ students within the Allen School itself. As a group, we can help advocate for meaningful changes that have the potential to better the student experience in the school for years to come. Together, there’s the added benefit that if someone is struggling, someone else in Q++ has likely faced a similar issue before. In this way, we can help guide each other through many of the common challenges we might experience at the UW.

Allen School: Why did you choose to major in computer science?

JS: I took my first computer science class my junior year of high school and from then on, I was hooked. When I was programming, however cliché it might sound, things seemed to click. I found that I wanted to continue coding after school, and sometimes looked forward to the homework assignments. Having never experienced this level of enthusiasm for any of my other studies, I thought that it had to mean something, so I applied to the Allen School. Now, having more knowledge about the field as a whole, I’ve decided to continue studying computer science because of how widespread software is. These days it seems like everything relies on computers and programming, meaning the opportunity is there to contribute to something that positively impacts the lives of people all around the world. I truly hope that by pursuing an education in computer science, I’ll get one of those opportunities to make a meaningful mark.

Allen School: What do you find most enjoyable about being an Allen School student? 

JS: Personally, although there’s a whole lot that I’ve really enjoyed about being an Allen School student so far, I think that the overall community I’ve interacted with has really been the highlight. From Discord study groups to my grading parties with my fellow teaching assistants, everyone I’ve met has been open, welcoming, and more than willing to help you out if you get stuck on a tricky 311 proof. At the same time, the wealth of opportunities available at the Allen School makes being a student here all the better. As I mentioned above, I’m currently an undergraduate TA but I know people who are exploring research opportunities, participating in hack-a-thons, and contributing to codebases or working on personal projects. No matter what, there is always something to do at the Allen School if you take the time to look for it!

Another great thing about the school is that although I am studying computer science, the flexibility of the major has also allowed me to explore another of my passions: theatre. Even though there are many challenges with being a double degree student, I’m extremely grateful that I’ve been able to study two wildly different fields while at the UW.

Allen School: Who or what inspires you in the Allen School?

JS: This year especially, I think the resilience and perseverance of everyone in the Allen School is extremely inspiring. Sure, there have been issues and we’ve all faltered at some point, but the fact that everyone has worked through all the adversity that has surrounded this quarter is insanely impressive. Both the faculty and student body deserve some praise for how many adaptations have been made to make this quarter as normal as possible.

I also mentioned them earlier, but the TA community has been another force of inspiration throughout my time here in the Allen School. I’ve met countless peers who all share my passion for educating and spreading our knowledge of programming to fellow undergraduates, many of whom have no prior coding experience. The fact that so many within the Allen School are more than happy to share their understanding and unique perspective of computer science never ceases to amaze me and keeps me coming back quarter after quarter.

Thank you for your leadership and for supporting your fellow Allen School students in and out of the virtual classroom, Joe!