A Conversation with Katerina Michou, Student Scholarship Recipient

IEEE Computer Society Team
Published 04/03/2024
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 Katerina Michou With a passion for computer science and academic excellence, Katerina Michou has been announced as both a 2023 Richard E. Merwin and IEEE WIE International scholarship (sponsored by the IEEE Women in Engineering organization) recipient. Michou is a third-year engineering student at the National Technical University of Athens studying Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). Once she completes her Diploma and integrated Masters, she plans to pursue Theoretical Computer Science in her graduate studies. In addition to her academic endeavors, she is a leader at her university’s IEEE student branch, where she’s played a pivotal role in organizing more than 17 events. During this interview, she shared her experiences, aspirations, and the insights she’s gained along her journey.


First and foremost, congratulations on receiving both the 2023 IEEE WIE International and Richard E. Merwin Student Scholarships! What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

Thank you! I’ve always had a great love for math and physics, but I couldn’t see myself doing something purely theoretical for the rest of my life. Despite having practically no experience with programming and just a little experience with circuitry from meddling around in machinery as a youngster, I did feel strangely drawn towards engineering. My choice to follow a path in electrical and computer engineering was proved right from my very first semester when in computer science, I found a very happy medium between my love for theory and my desire for my work to have an applied component. I do credit some great biographies of scientists, especially women scientists, for helping me navigate my interests and inspiring me to pursue science as a kid, as well as my parents, who were always supportive of my interests and who inadvertently helped in my quest towards engineering by letting me take apart some pieces of electronic equipment when I was younger that thankfully we had no further need of since they were irrecoverable afterward!

Learn more about student awards and scholarships!

As the Chair of the Computer Society Chapter at IEEE National Technical University of Athens Student Branch, how do you foster collaboration and engagement within your organization? How do you feel the Society has helped?

Making sure that a volunteer group as large as ours has all of its component groups collaborating seamlessly occasionally poses challenges, but we’ve come up with strategies to overcome them. Our chapter is currently divided into subgroups, each focused on a different area of computer science, such as quantum computing, competitive programming, ethical hacking, and more. Despite all of these areas being quite different from each other, through frequent “town hall” meetings, open invitations to the events of each subgroup to the whole community, and many sessions of brainstorming, we are currently very proud to say that we have numerous volunteers participating in more than one subgroup, volunteers not belonging to certain subgroups coming to help in said subgroups’ events, and most importantly, interdisciplinary group projects involving people from different subgroups, such as a smart traffic light program where people from the machine learning subgroup collaborate with people from the software development subgroup. This widespread climate of collaboration also extends to our relationships with the other chapters of our student branch, and student volunteering initiatives in our city (both technical and non-technical, such as the local Debate community). We all try to promote each other’s initiatives and help with organizational matters when possible.

Securing the constant engagement of the greater student community relies on the excellent reputation our events have acquired both before my tenure, thanks to my amazing predecessors, and currently, on the innovative use of social media and posters to let the public know of our latest projects. We also frequently host informative booths, both on campus and during the events of other student organizations, to make our initiatives known and to attract new members.

The IEEE Computer Society has been of tremendous help in the aforementioned efforts, both thanks to the guidance of elder members who helped guide us towards achieving such a positive, collaborative environment, and through the various “soft skills” issues it highlights through webinars, publications, etc., which have helped us combine our activities’ technical side with a more approachable and cooperative profile.


Can you discuss a project or initiative where collaboration was particularly instrumental to its success?

In December 2023, our chapter organized a three-day cybersecurity-themed event along with a capture-the-flag competition, which attracted about 200 participants and was the largest of its kind in our country and one of the largest student-led in Europe. A team of more than 30 volunteers worked tirelessly for many months before the event to make sure that every last detail, from the catering to the promotional materials to the venue, and last but not least, the workshops (both by volunteers and industry professionals), was immaculate. Despite excellent planning a day before the event, we found out that, due to extenuating circumstances, our venue wouldn’t be able to host us for the first of the three days, and neither could most of our usual options. Rather than resigning and holding the event online, our team instantly split into separate “task forces” and, through excellent collaboration, managed to secure another space with the required amenities, manually carried an incredible amount of equipment to the new location, managed to notify every single participant in time, and even had volunteers lined up in the road from the old venue to the new to make sure that no one would get lost. The event was a huge success, and students mention it fondly at least once a week at my university, even now, four months later. It wouldn’t have been possible without the ingenuity and spirit of collaboration of my amazing teammates.

Mentorship seems to have played a significant role in your journey. How have your mentors influenced your growth, and what advice would you give to students seeking mentorship opportunities within the IEEE community?

My mentors’ support has been instrumental in every single part of my journey up to this point. From offering invaluable academic advice and teaching me how to properly run our chapter, to encouraging me to apply for awards even when I felt unsure of myself, they’ve always been by my side, providing guidance. I think that finding mentorship is one of the greatest perks of being an IEEE student member since benefiting from the life experience and advice of older members can at the same time help you avoid making mistakes and allow you to reach further than you could have gone if you were only relying on your strength. I would strongly advise students looking for mentorship opportunities to apply to the various official IEEE mentorship programs as well as to try and forge connections with the elders of their local student branch, who, in my experience, are always glad to help!


Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for the future, both within the IEEE community and in your broader engineering career?

I plan on pursuing an academic career, so I’m looking forward to one day contributing to research efforts on my own! I’m in year 3 of my 5-year Electrical and Computer Engineering Diploma, and I am currently specializing in computer science and planning to focus more on its algorithmic and theoretical side. Hence, my research interests lie mostly within these areas. Furthermore, I find that my broader engineering background does come in handy when I approach these more abstract ideas at the heart of theoretical computer science and look for practical applications. When it comes to the IEEE, I joined our student branch in my first semester, and I do not plan on saying goodbye until I’m holding my diploma in my hands! After all, I do have many plans for the rest of my tenure, and even afterward, I’ll continue advising the younger generations. After that, I intend to continue being involved as an IEEE graduate student member and later on as a full member—exciting times ahead!

More About Katerina Michou

Katerina Michou is a third-year engineering student from Greece, studying Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), with a focus on Computer Science and Computer Systems. She plans to go into Theoretical Computer Science graduate studies once she completes her Diploma and integrated Master’s. She is currently serving as Chair of the Computer Society Chapter of the NTUA IEEE Student Branch, of which she was previously the vice chair, having organized, along with her team, over 17 events during her tenure, with subjects ranging from Quantum Computing to Ethical Hacking and Competitive Programming. She is currently a Region 8 IEEE Computer Society Student Ambassador, following her being awarded the prestigious Richard E. Merwin IEEE Computer Society Scholarship in 2023 for outstanding academic achievements and leadership within the IEEE. She has also been awarded by the Technical Chamber of Greece for exceptional academic performance and excellence in university admissions exams. In the past, she has been a member of the Greek team for the Physics World Cup (IYPT), got the 5th place in the Greek ICPC preliminary round in 2023, and won the Best Paper in Physics award at the ACSTAC 2020 conference for a paper regarding the conductance of graphite-clay blends for use in rapid electronic prototyping and STEM education programs.

In her free time, she loves to write short stories and paint, with her work having been featured in various publications of the Society of Greek Writers and Artists as well as over 14 group exhibitions. She speaks Greek, English, French, Spanish, and elementary German and has in the past participated in multiple MUN conferences, notably in the French MFGNU 2019 where she was selected to give the opening speech, and in ACMUN 2020 where she won the Best Delegate Award.