Commencement Speaker Sarah Hager Leads by Example

May 3, 2019

Ben Hosking, Contributing Writer

Sarah Hager (MSCS ‘19) is the definition of a civically engaged Husky. As one of the founders of the Khoury Masters Council, she helped get the student-led organization off the ground in her second semester. As the president of the Council, she worked to create a space for peer mentoring and involvement. She is the student speaker at the Khoury College commencement for Spring 2019.

With a background in the performing arts, Hager decided to pursue her MS in computer science at Khoury College to create an impact. “CS touches so many aspects of modern life from arts to healthcare and mathematics,” she says. She enrolled at Northeastern under the U.S. Department of Defense’s SMART Scholarship for Service Program, in which students commit to serving the United States through a branch of the military after graduation.

Hager characterizes her experience as a graduate student as intellectually vibrant. She especially enjoyed Assistant Professor Rajmohan Rajaraman’s class on algorithms. “His lectures were compelling – every time I went to lectures, I learned so much. He explained it in an understandable and interesting way. He always came into class without any pretense.” His teaching was in the style of, “Here’s a problem, we’re going to talk about it,” she adds.

Hager appreciates the faculty’s attention to students. During her second semester she enrolled in a networking class with Professor Cristina Nita-Rotaru. Hager was still in transition from her previous career and still working to find her grounding and direction. She recalls that Nita-Rotaru “took the time to understand my motivation for being there and offered advice for how I could succeed. I remember being really surprised by that. Receiving constructive criticism from a professor is amazing – a professor who cares enough to invest in their teaching.”

A desire for peer organized support, akin to that from the faculty, inspired Hager in her work as president of the Masters Council. She says, “Initially, I didn’t know my classmates very well – it was a little hard to socially integrate with our cohort because people tend to stick to the backgrounds that are familiar.” As Hager got to know people and learned why they study at Northeastern, she gained a further appreciation for the diversity of both faculty and students at Khoury College. “They bring different experiences from industry and academia, CS and non-CS together in an intellectually and culturally diverse college.”

Commenting on Hager’s roles in the Masters Council, Megan Barry, director of the Align Program, reports that “she is sensitive to making sure that a diversity of voices are heard within the CS space. She works hard to make sure that others have the opportunity to lead.”

Katie Rice, MSDS advisor and primary Khoury College contact for the Masters Council, agrees with Barry. “Sarah leads by example. As the Council chair, she works as hard as she expects her fellow members to do. In her interactions with her peers she is always respectful and kind. She encourages those around her to be their best, most creative selves. She is generous with her time. In short, Sarah is the true embodiment of a role model.”

After graduation, Hager will join the Kessel Run Experimental Labs of the U.S. Air Force and continue her service to others. As Barry puts it, “She absolutely has the capacity to be a leader in the tech space.”

In her advice to current and future students, Hager suggests that they remain open minded. “Sometimes students worry whether this is the right class for their field or their co-op – I feel like at the end of the day it’s about the experience you have in class no matter the subject – what relationships you develop with students you work with or faculty who teach you.”