Cezary Wojcik, Kelson Luc, Yi Li and Jonathan Chang are working with Hannah Colett on their senior design project.
Hannah Colett willingly admits she was intimidated when she began pursuing a computer science degree at Oregon State, and credits the support and guidance of many people for her success. Now a human factors engineer at Intel, it is important to her to stay connected to her alma mater and give back through mentoring.
In addition to the challenge of being a female in a male dominated field, Colett was also a first-generation college student with very little background in math and science. “I was a theater kid that wanted to dance and do art,” Colett said of her early years. “But I also wanted to organize my crayons, and it was organization and critical thinking that appealed to me about computer science,” she said.
Although she had an early interest in computers from watching her older brother play video games, no one took her passion seriously. “I was always the little sister, just copying her brother,” she said.
And it was a tough pursuit for Colett who said she had been humiliated in sixth grade for not being able to do long division. But her desire to follow her passion spurred her on and she started in the most basic math class at Linn Benton Community College with a plan to transfer to Oregon State.
“I wanted do something challenging, and I was terrified doing it, but it turned out I was really good at it,” she said. Little by little she gained confidence with the help of some key people along the way.
One of her first mentors was a customer at the Verizon store where she worked, who happened to be Ellen Momsen, director of Women and Minorities in Engineering (WME) at Oregon State. Momsen was able to set her up with her first scholarship as well as introduced her to a circle of women mentors in the engineering community.
Momsen and others encouraged Colett to connect with Margaret Burnett, professor of computer science, which led to collaborations with Ph.D. and master’s students yielding her first academic publication. One of Colett’s memorable experiences was when Burnet asked her to review research papers and challenged her to think critically about them and defend her arguments.
“She taught me that my experience is valid, and that was really enlightening,” Colett said.
That confidence led her to form relationships with her fellow students and seek out study groups. The male students who she was initially intimidated by because she thought they knew more than she did, became her close friends.
“The moment you open yourself up to those relationships, that's when school starts to become the college experience that everyone talks about. Staying up late in Kelley eating pizza with 20 dudes all pushing each other to stay awake and keep working — those are the times I remember,” she said.
Along the way she became a mentor to other students. At Oregon State she was a College of Engineering Ambassador and made a point to reach out to women and transfer students to be an example of someone who had faced the same challenges that they were facing.
“It was so valuable to me to have people who put themselves out there for me, so I really wanted give that same guidance and leadership to others who might not necessarily feel like they belong,” she said.
She continues to mentor students as an employee of Intel. In her first year of employment she supervised a student team at Harvey Mudd College on their senior design project. This year she convinced her employers that the senior design team they work with should be at Oregon State.
“I'm a strong believer in our program and what we have to offer. I made Oregon my home and I'm very proud of it and I really want to continue working with this community,” Colett said.