It started with a newspaper article. Melis Gökalp ’21 was a middle school student in Istanbul, Turkey when she stumbled upon the story. It was about a fellow Turkish student who had gone to an Ivy League college in the United States, became a lawyer, and was now seeking to change things for the better in his native country.
It was enough to inspire the young Gökalp to do the same. Later that day, she proclaimed to her family that she wanted to go to an Ivy League school. Her parents' response: “What's that?”
Truthfully, Gökalp wasn't entirely sure either, but she had found a path that spoke to her and was determined to follow it.
That path brought her to a foreign education high school that helped prepare her for college abroad. It also brought her to the United States for the first time to visit several colleges — including Brown, which had quickly emerged as her top-choice school. For Gökalp, a big part of its draw was the Open Curriculum.
“Before coming to Brown, I considered myself a visual arts and humanities person,” says Gökalp. “I was very eager to make use of the Open Curriculum because there were so many things I knew I wanted to explore that weren't available or offered at my high school in Turkey.”
Aided by a Brown Annual Fund scholarship, she was able to embark on that exploration. In her first year, she took courses in digital art, contemporary architecture, anthropology, and Slavic studies. But more than anything, Gökalp wanted to learn how to write computer code. She enrolled in her first-ever computer science course and, though it was an introductory class, it proved unexpectedly challenging.
“I was struggling. I was surrounded by students who had been doing this since high school or even middle school, and there I was trying to do it for the first time. It was really unusual for me and I was doubtful I would take any further coding classes,” says Gökalp.
Despite starting a lap behind the pack, Gökalp was able to catch up and — by the end of the semester — found herself excited to continue her trek into computer science. While she initially planned to concentrate in international relations, Gökalp is now pursuing concentrations in both computer science and Slavic studies.
“If it wasn't for the Open Curriculum, I would not have had the chance to take a computer science course because it was so far outside my comfort zone,” says Gökalp. “Brown encourages students to be comfortable with taking on new challenges.”