FAIRFAX , VIRGINIA — Dolica Gopisetty raises her hand multiple times during a statistics class at George Mason University in Virginia, where she's pursuing a bachelor's degree in information technology.
Gopisetty gives a correct answer each time, which is typical of the 21-year-old college senior, who has excelled since arriving in the United States at the age of seven.
"I love technology. I love taking things apart and putting them back together and seeing how things work," she said. "I think that's one of the reasons why I've always been passionate about engineering."
Cloud is the future
That passion led her to become the first — and youngest — student to be certified in George Mason's newly launched bachelor degree program in cloud computing, which, together with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), has partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The program is designed to help students pursue careers in cloud architecture, cybersecurity, software development and DevOps, a system of software development and delivery.
The certificate helped Gopisetty get a paid internship at USA Today, a national newspaper where she works part-time as a software development engineer with the content engineering team.
"I think that's what really got me the recognition that I did, and I'm really thankful for that because the certification has definitely changed my career's trajectory," she said.
Gopisetty is also involved with opportunities beyond the classroom.
She is founder and president of the campus Association of Engineers, which aims "to provide students a bridge between learning and career."
"Google was here a couple of weeks ago to share their career options, talk about the kinds of jobs they're hiring for, and where they are hiring," Gopisetty explained. "They also shared with us their interview process, and what they look for in a candidate."
And earlier this year she represented George Mason at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Summit in Washington, where — as the only woman on the panel — she spoke about the impact of cloud computing in education.
She was also a keynote speaker — the only college student among eight presenters — at Imagine: A Better World, A Global Education Conference, hosted by AWS in Seattle, Washington.
She was the youngest panelist at both events.
"It was surreal," she said about the experience. "And I think that was a moment where I felt that all the hard work that I did in college, in high school, in my entire life, paid off."
GMU Interim President Anne Holton says Gopisetty is a great example of a Mason success story.
"The diversity that she brings in perspective and in experience and background is the kind of diversity that employers are really looking for, because it helps them do their work well," she said.
"Dolica was one of [a] hundred students that I had in class, but she's the one who stood out in those hundred students," said Kamaljeet Sanghera, Associate Professor in Information Sciences and Technology Program at GMU. "So she is doing fantastic with the knowledge that she's learning and going beyond what we are providing her."
Aging out of visas
Gopisetty says she is grateful for the opportunities she's been given, but like many international students, feels unsettled about her visa status.
She came to the U.S. with her parents in 2005 as a dependent, on an H-4 Visa. Fourteen years later, when she turned 21 this year, she had to leave the U.S., return to her country of origin — India — and come back to America on an F-1 student visa.
"In order for me to legally stay in this country and continue my education, I had to have something that said that I'm legally allowed to stay, and the only thing was a student visa for me," she said.
The main downside of her visa situation, she added, "Is not having stability, security, and as a student right now, having to pay out-of-state tuition."
Gopisetty is among more than one million international students in the U.S., with 20 percent coming from India.
Becoming a legal American
Gopisetty says she's grateful for her friends and mentors at George Mason and that she longs to become an American.
"Having stayed in this country for the past 14 years, I just want to be able to call this country my home, legally," she said. "I want to say 'Hey, I'm a green card holder,' or Hey, I'm a citizen of this country,' and always say no matter where I go in the world, that I'm coming back to my home."