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Computer Science major’s play about Ada Lovelace earns invite to national festival

Joel in hallway of Kinsley Engineering Center

When Joel Horne ’20 decided to take a playwriting class at York College of Pennsylvania, he learned that part of the requirement was actually writing a play. The Computer Science major met the challenge head-on with a script about Ada Lovelace that mixed his love for theatre and computer science: Ada and Her Programming.

Lovelace, a mathematician from the 1800s, was known for her work with Charles Babbage. The two created a computer known as the Analytical Engine. According to Joel, the machine could do anything a modern computer can, albeit much slower. “The play is about them imagining what kind of impact their machine has on the world in the future,” the Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, native says.

Joel had a passion for theatre before the class, but he wasn’t expecting anything to come of his class requirement. However, his play was selected by the Region 2 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival to workshop into a 10-minute show. During the festival, Joel paired up with a director who helped him cast the play and do a stage reading. He even attended different playwriting workshops related to technology, acting, and more.

He also got an even bigger surprise—his play was selected at the festival to be considered at the national level. Participants from all eight regions will meet at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in April to be considered for the Gary Garrison National Ten-Minute Play Award. “I wasn’t really expecting it,” Joel says about his play moving onto the national level. “I’m really glad that it was considered, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”

Solving puzzles in computer science

Joel’s play highlights another one of his passions: computer science. An early interest in computers and solving puzzles made computer science appealing when Joel started looking at majors. He always figured he would do something in computers, but he wasn’t totally sure what. “Computer science has a lot to do with just taking problems and figuring them out, and that was something that always appealed to me,” he says.

Those problems include using information from clients or employers to develop applications. On any given day, a computer scientist will create top-level designs, then build programs meant to solve problems efficiently. Joel does some of this work hands-on in the classroom. Currently, his senior project involves designing and building a database that will help run a radio telescope at John Rudy Park.

“Right now, the senior software project that I’m in is as close to being in a work environment as possible,” Joel says. “It’s a collaborative effort, on top of being exposed to new technology constantly, it’s being able to work with other people.”

Joel’s play also highlights the important advancement of women in computer science. Although he followed the prompt to write about Ada Lovelace, he says there aren’t a lot of female programmers or computer science students in the field. He’s excited to see more women join the program and excel like Lovelace.

Future plans

When Joel started looking for a college, he was looking for a school that had a smaller class size and offered a hands-on education. He found it at York College, where he says he’s interacted with numerous professors who have become mentors instead of just teachers.

After graduating in 2020 and gaining some experience in the workforce, Joel would like to go to graduate school to study Computer Science. But as for his time at York College, he’s happy with the decision he made to attend four years ago. “That expectation was kind of fulfilled and more.”

While he has benefitted from the College’s strong Computer Science program, Joel wasn’t expecting to write a winning play, but he appreciates the opportunity to do so. Who knew his passion for computers would evolve into theatre?