A leader from the start: First-year IST student heads new student organization

Lauren Pearl elected president of new human-centered design and development group in College of Information Sciences and Technology

Lauren Pearl leads a meeting of the User Experience Professional Association (UXPA), a student organization in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, early in the spring 2020 semester. Credit: Jessica Hallman / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Lauren Pearl never imagined she would become so involved with the newest major at the College of Information Sciences and Technology during the first semester of her first year at Penn State, let alone be elected president of a club for its students. But she’s found her niche as an advocate for the program that focuses on human-centered design and development (HCDD) in technology.

Pearl, who has a strong interest in tech, also has a desire for human connection.

“I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and code all the time,” she said. “I want to talk to people, I want to design things that look pretty.”

The HCDD major gives students like Pearl the opportunity to implement their creativity in the technology field.

“It’s all about designing with humans in mind,” she said. “Typically, in technology, engineers will design things that are logical, things that make sense.”

She added, “But humans don’t think that way. We think completely abstractly and not logically at all. So, [HCDD] is taking the human mind and how we approach things and building things that are easy for humans to use.”

The drive to be a leader

Now a rising second-year student, Pearl learned about the new HCDD major while she was visiting Penn State and knew it was the perfect fit. Then, she wanted to find ways to connect with others on campus, while also advancing her education outside the classroom — just like she’d done before coming to Penn State.

In high school, she participated in and eventually coached a program called Girls Who Code. As a fashion-lover passionate about changing the stereotype that surrounds women in technology, Pearl became inspired to start her own programming competition for young girls in northeastern Pennsylvania.

“Throughout high school and the first part of my college career, I’ve experienced so many setbacks, and people saying, ‘You program? You’re in technology? That’s weird. You don’t look like you are, you’re a girl.’”

So, she set out to prove that she was worthy.

“I got in contact with people from neighboring high schools in their technology programs, and I asked if we could try to make a STEM competition for girls in middle school,” Pearl said. “By my senior year we had almost 60 schools participating. It was amazing.”

Later, when Pearl was looking for extracurricular activities to join when she arrived at Penn State last fall, one of her HCDD professors, Steven Haynes, proposed the idea of generating a club that would go hand-in-hand with the new major. That organization launched this spring, and Pearl participated from the start.

At the organization’s second meeting. Haynes, who serves as faculty adviser, told the group that he was going to step outside, but the group wouldn’t be allowed to leave until they selected an executive board.

After realizing every member wanted to be president, the students decided to go around the room and explain why each deserved the title.

“I said, ‘I should be president because I did that programming competition, and I just want to do something. I just really want to put my heart and soul into something and create it for the next four years,’” Pearl recalled.

Without hesitation, everyone agreed with her. She remembers saying to herself, “I’m president, this is my thing, this is happening.”

Building from the ground up

The participating club members knew they wanted to challenge themselves off the bat, so they decided to join forces with the international User Experience Professional Association (UXPA). While Pearl was told that establishing the Penn State chapter of UXPA would take time and hard work, she was able to officially launch the club in just a matter of weeks.

Building from the ground up, Pearl and the rest of the executive board have tailored UXPA to make sure each participating student gains their own unique benefits of membership.

“I want it to be broad,” Pearl said. “I want people to be able to come and be like, ‘I love to do art, give me something to do that has to do with that so I don’t have to think about school right now,’ and we’ll give them something productive and helpful.

She added, “We’re going to be taking on so many projects that there’s going to be [a lot of] things for people to work on.”

Change of plans

The University’s transition to remote learning this spring due to the novel coronavirus pandemic caused Pearl and other UXPA leaders to make some changes to the plans they originally had set this semester.

“COVID-19 definitely affected the club and our agenda. After spring break, we were planning on completing our first major project with Penn State Food Services,” Pearl said. “Since the extended breaks, we’ve had a general group meeting over Zoom to make sure everyone was staying safe and healthy, and we recently had an officer meeting to discuss plans moving forward.”

She added, “The UXPA is planning on using this summer to complete what we couldn’t in the spring, and we hope we'll be back on track by fall.”

As president, Pearl has been encouraging all members to add the work they do on the organization's collaborative projects to their resumes immediately — which will include programming, website building and numerous other technology projects

“That’s the first rule that I’m going to drill into everyone’s head.” she said.

She encourages students of all experience and skill levels to join with an open mind. And for all the responsibility in her first year of college?

“I love it," said Pearl.

“It’s just crazy that [at the start of the semester] I was going to the meeting to be a part of this club, and now, people are coming to the meetings and I’m the president of the club that they want to be a part of,” she concluded. “It just blows my mind.”

Last Updated April 15, 2021