Coding herself a bright future

Candice Zhu ’11 reflects on how her time at TU impacted her career in applied information technology

By GRACE HOGGARTH '22 on May 15, 2024

Alumna sits outside of Maryland Department of Transportation headquarters
(David Trozzo / Maryland Department of Transportation)

Programming at a Young Age

Candice Zhu ’11 knew from a young age that she loved working with computers. When she discovered Towson University in her quest for a master’s degree program, she took the leap and moved from China to pursue her passion.

Unlike computers today, Zhu’s first computer didn’t have an advanced operating system. She taught herself how to create programs and games through hands-on learning. To Zhu, writing live code was just like magic.

“I think IT chose me. I got my first computer when I was 9 years-old, before Windows 95 existed. Everything was command based, and, for the age I was back then, it was just such a cool thing,” says Zhu.

Discovering People-Centric Technology Applications at TU

When she found TU in early 2010, she decided to pursue the Master of Science in Applied Information Technology (AIT) in the Jess & Mildred Fisher College of Science & Mathematics. It enables students to study, design, develop, implement and support information systems to solve major challenges in the modern work environment.

Zhu expanded on her coding and programming skills and learned how they could be applied beyond coding to people-focused work like project management and business applications.

Because of the foundational knowledge she gained in her classes at TU, she learned how technology can and should be used as an enabler for businesses to support their staff and their customers. For Zhu, human-centric technology application is essential in the workplace.

She credits professors Joshua Dehlinger and Sidd Kaza as her mentors who motivated and helped her along the way through the program.

“Candice represents the international students at TU, who bring their skills and perspectives to our excellent programs and graduate to contribute positively to the regional workforce and communities. Kudos Candice!” says Kaza.

Career Beginnings and Beyond

Since graduating from TU, she has held long-term IT positions in the local Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas, including the Enoch Pratt Free Library where she began as a manager of web applications and eventually served as the chief of digital transformation.

Zhu now serves as director of IT governance and portfolio with the Maryland Department of Transportation, where she supports IT portfolio management, governance practices, asset management strategies and IT project management initiatives across the organization's enterprise landscape. She credits her time in the master's program with creating a solid foundation for her success in her career since graduating.

"Being able to see a former student succeed and thrive in their career after TU is one of the most rewarding experiences as a faculty member. Seeing Candice’s journey from a passionate AIT student seeking to grow her technical skills to a now, well accomplished IT professional leading a team supporting the Maryland Department of Transportation demonstrates what is possible," says Dehlinger.

Paving Her Way in a Male-Dominated Field 

Like many other women in the STEM field, Zhu is no stranger to the cultural, personal and societal challenges that come with pursuing a career in IT. Despite these challenges, she has continued to persevere and pave her own way.

“Even to this day, it is not a women-led industry. But there are a lot of talented women in the technology field right now, and I truly believe from the STEM perspective we should encourage more girls and women to get into this field,” says Zhu.

Amplifying women in STEM and encouraging students to pursue careers in the field is a priority at TU. With resources like the Hill-Lopes Scholars Program and the Women in Science program, current and future students have even more resources at TU to bolster their dreams of careers in STEM.

Support from the isso

A foundation for success

Zhu's success was strengthened by the International Student & Scholar Office (ISSO) and its efforts to immerse international students in U.S. culture as soon as she stepped foot on campus. 

Her second year at TU, Zhu served as an ambassador in the ISSO where she welcomed international students and helped them become a part of the TU community. The office gave Zhu the confidence to speak up in class and social settings, which was initially challenging for her as a native Chinese speaker.