​CCA alumna advances computer science career through college​

​Courtney Thurston landed an internship at Microsoft as she pursues her goals in the STEM field, a passion that began at CCA.​

Even while Courtney Thurston was a student at Commonwealth Charter Academy, she was on the move toward accomplishing great things in her STEM career.

Since her sophomore year of high school at CCA, Courtney has been traveling the country from her hometown of Mechanicsburg to take part in internships and conferences related to her career path and now college majors, computer science and computational math.

“My double majors are heavily influenced by the opportunities I got to pursue at CCA and my schedule’s flexibility,” she said. “I was able to go out and not just look at the textbook and all of the resources CCA provided, but bring in my own resources and incorporate my own interests into my schoolwork.”

Courtney is continuing her studies in Daytona Beach, Florida at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. While not taking classes, she is a research assistant, a student leader of the Women’s Engineering Institute and a member or the Society of Women Engineers.

Before she entered her junior year of college, Courtney spent her second summer as a software engineering intern at Microsoft in Seattle. She analyzed company data to provide insights on what that data means for business.

“I find that super exciting because that’s a data science challenge and it’s very computational and very mathematical,” she said.

Courtney’s interests in STEM were sparked with her involvement in the Real World Design Challenge team at CCA, an annual competition for high school students to solve engineering problems. She worked with other CCA students to find ways to use unmanned aerial systems, or drones, in search and rescue missions and agriculture. Her passion and teamwork helped the team win the state championship four years in a row, and place second at the national level of competition two of those years.

“To share that experience with my teammates and bond with them in a special way was a really big moment for me,” she said.

Courtney, 19, spent her summers in high school interning with a number of organizations. She began interning the summer before her junior year at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked with the astronomy open source library project – a resource scientists use to track stars.

The next summer, Courtney returned to Pittsburgh to work at a startup company based out of Carnegie Mellon University. There, she was part of the first team to autonomously fly a helicopter over a river, and helped create fundamentals for what is now known as Amazon Prime Air, a drone-based delivery system.

Just a week after graduating from CCA with 13 completed AP classes, a third internship with Northrop Grumman – a global security company – and five poster presentations on drones at national STEM conferences under her belt, Courtney moved to Los Angeles to intern at SpaceX, a company that makes and launches rockets and spacecraft. One of her responsibilities was to design landing legs that would allow Falcon 9, a rocket that delivers satellites into orbit, to land back on earth after circling the planet.

“I completed that internship right after high school,” she said. “I didn’t have any college experience and it was all me applying what I had learned at CCA to the internship. I think SpaceX will always be a career highlight for me and I’m definitely super grateful for it.”

After college, Courtney hopes to accept a full-time job at Microsoft. There, she can continue working in computer science and have the opportunity to earn a master’s degree with the University of Washington, who is a partner with Microsoft.

“I really want to continue getting return offers to work at Microsoft because I like the company and they’ve been great to me so far,” she said. “I’d want to complete my master’s in computer science while working full time. That’s something I’m thinking about even right now.”

As an accomplished CCA alumnus, Courtney’s advice to CCA families is to take advantage of the flexibility in students’ schedule and the vast array of courses and opportunities available at the school.

“There are opportunities that being able to do schoolwork from home affords you beyond just being comfortable in your own home,” she said. “Be proactive in taking advantage of the flexibility CCA provides because it will definitely put you in a better position for whatever it is you want to pursue.”​


High School Learner