Anything but Typical

November 30, 2011

Hannah Adams

Hannah Adams looks like a typical college student, but she’s anything but typical. At age 23 and in her fourth year of college, she’s a junior majoring in computer science. Raised in tiny Etna, California (population 737), 60 miles south of Medford, Oregon, she alternated between public school and home schooling until the age of 16. After living in Germany for two years and then receiving her high school diploma, Adams moved to Portland and got a job as a consultant in a GoWireless store.

Adams decided she wanted to attend college and asked for a job transfer to Corvallis, where she began studying at Linn-Benton Community College full time while continuing to work full time as an assistant store manager. She knew she wanted to major in computer science because her brother was into video games, and she thought it would be a challenge to “choose one thing I know absolutely nothing about.”

In the fall of 2010, she transferred to Oregon State University but knew she couldn’t continue working full time. That’s when fate stepped in.

Ellen Momsen, director of the Women and Minorities program for OSU’s College of Engineering, went into the wireless store because her teenage sons were begging for new cell phones. Adams and Momsen got to talking and Momsen realized that Adams was a great candidate for the Ruth T. Kelley Cole scholarship for women in engineering.

“The scholarship was meant for students like Hannah who are transferring from community colleges and are looking to make a career change,” says Momsen. “Hannah was so enthusiastic and engaging when I met her.”

Adams also applied for and received several other scholarships.

I don’t want anyone to feel left behind or that there’s no one to turn to or not fit in

And the scholarships have paid off, not just for Adams, but for the School of EECS, College of Engineering, university, and the community as well. In the year since she started at OSU, Adams has become a peer advisor in the School of EECS, an ambassador for the College of Engineering, and a mentor for 14 women in engineering. She recently spoke at a Zonta International fundraising event, where they raised $30,000 for scholarships. And just last week, she represented the university at the OSU Foundation’s Presidents dinner and gave a speech to thank Microsoft for their support and to introduce OSU alumnus Jon DeVaan, Vice President of Windows Development at Microsoft.

Last winter, she also began doing research in human-computer interaction under the guidance of professor Margaret Burnett. “I worked on a project to create Java visualizations for software that models brain waves,” explains Adams. “The end goal is to develop a system that simulates brain functions.” As a result of this work and another project, Adams has co-authored two papers that have been accepted for publication.

In addition to research, Adams has served as a peer advisor for EECS, helping her fellow undergraduate students navigate their way through the curriculum. She is also an M&M — a mentor in the College of Engineering’s Mentors and Mentees program. Adams loves computer science, but she is especially passionate about helping younger women students feel welcome and that there is a place for them in the school. “I don’t want anyone to feel left behind or that there’s no one to turn to or not fit in,” she says.

Adams spends winter breaks working on applying for scholarships because she doesn’t receive government financial aid. Without scholarships, Adams doubts she’d be able to afford going to college full-time. The scholarships have helped build on her foundation of growing up in Etna, and her future looks incredibly bright.