Stella Luk

BSc (Honors), Computing Science, University of Alberta

Before Stella Luk graduated from the University of Alberta in 2005, she had already conducted international robotics experiments, co-invented software for IBM, and lived and studied in both Ontario and Sweden as part of her degree. In the not-too-distant future, she’ll be a lawyer specializing in international issues like human rights and intellectual property.

Luk’s robotics project was part of her academic exchange trip to Sweden, where she attended Uppsala University. Communicating mostly through online instant messaging and webcams, a group of students in Sweden and a group of students in the U.S. each made an identical robot. Through an Internet user interface, they controlled and directed the robots through obstacle courses and other tests, all while living on different continents.

"The fascinating thing about that project was how it combined so many different parts of computing science: networks, robotics, image recognition, software design, usability…" says Luk.

She tried her hand at inventing as part of her internship at IBM as an Internet tools developer. The position, which was in Markham, Ontario, charged her with developing and creating software when she wasn’t busy testing and troubleshooting software. Together with her supervisor, Luk invented a software design that allows computers to understand changes in software code better and faster.

Luk calls the internship her best experience at university. "I think everyone should do the internship," she says. Not only did she advance her skills in problem-solving and project management, but IBM made sure she and the other 200 students working at the IBM lab felt at home. There were social events and activities like free kickboxing lessons. "The internship is such a great thing to do. It opened doors, let me experience a ‘real life’ software development environment, and allowed me to meet people on all kinds of technology-related career paths."

As Luk neared graduation, she struggled with what to do next. She loved computing science, but still wanted to pursue her long-time interest in social justice and human rights. Since high school she had been volunteering for groups like Amnesty International and Oxfam. In fact, Luk had chosen to study computing science partly because she thought it would meld with her other interests.

She was right — her computing science background has transferred to her other interests. Luk was accepted into the Combined JD/Collaborative MA in International Relations program at the University of Toronto and began studying there in the fall of 2005. The program equips her to be a lawyer and also awards her a master’s degree in arts.

Before Luk went to the U of A, she knew nothing about computers except for how to use Microsoft Word. She went on to receive the Dean’s Silver Medal in Science for superior academic achievement, and she says her U of A experiences helped her to do what she is doing today.

Luk says law is like computing science in that it comes into so many parts of life. She is enjoying the company of people like herself who are interested in using law to promote positive social change. Her latest career contemplations involve technology and human rights law; for example, how intellectual property is handled in developing countries.