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.