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Cal State LA student excels on the tennis court and in the classroom

The email that would change Elizaveta Sokolova’s life landed in her inbox as she was walking into her high school graduation ceremony in Moscow, Russia.

In it was a full-ride scholarship offer for the 16-year-old to play tennis for the Golden Eagles at California State University, Los Angeles.

“I wanted to scream, to laugh, to cry. All of my emotions hit me so hard,” Sokolova says. “I couldn’t believe it.”

If she had stayed in Russia, Sokolova would have had to choose between pursuing higher education and athletics. But at Cal State LA, she fulfilled both dreams.

Photo credit: Cal State LA.

Four years later, the 20-year-old Alhambra resident will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. She is the student speaker at the undergraduate ceremony for the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology at Cal State LA.

Growing up, Sokolova passed on socializing with friends to focus on drills at the net. She opted not to attend school with children her age, skipping grades ahead for the greater academic challenge.

She developed an early affinity for math and science, and at age 16 passed a test to leave high school after just one year. She graduated and earned a gold medal in mathematics from the Russian government, an honor awarded to students who excel on final examinations in secondary education.

That unwavering discipline continued when Sokolova stepped onto Cal State LA’s campus.

Her days often started before sunrise, when she’d leave her apartment and head to a three-hour training session with her teammates, who became like a second family.

She juggled a full course load and the arduous demands of a collegiate athlete. Such a schedule would be challenging for most. But Sokolova was also a teenager navigating a new country and a new language, alone.

During her first two years of college, she kept a list of new words she heard throughout the day and didn’t know. She looked them up when she returned home.

Her knack for numbers helped Sokolova when it came time to choose her major: computer science. Her desire to show women can be at the top of the field also motivated her.

She excelled in her major and fell in love with the field of data science in a course during her senior year with Professor Mohammad Pourhomayoun.

Through the College of ECST’s Senior Design Project Program, Sokolova led a team of students who developed a web-map tool that allows the city of Los Angeles to track and prioritize its capital transportation projects.

Sokolova earned an Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar-Athlete Award and Academic All-PacWest Conference recognition for three years and was on the Dean’s List for four consecutive terms. In 2015-16, she received the Cal State LA Athletics Department Academic Achievement Award.

Sokolova received the Joe Shapiro Scholarship at the 20th Billie Jean King & Friends Gala in October 2017. The annual event celebrates student-athletes, humanitarians and Cal State LA alumna Billie Jean King, a world champion athlete and global advocate for social justice who has helped support hundreds of Golden Eagle student-athletes during the past two decades.

“She is a great example of how we should fight for women’s rights and minority rights,” Sokolova says of King, who she spent time with on various occasions during her years at Cal State LA.

After graduating in May with a 3.86 GPA, Sokolova hopes to pursue a career in data science, and forge new paths for women in the field.

“I don’t know if I can change the world, but at least step by step, maybe I can,” Sokolova says. “That’s my goal.”

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