OU alum encourages girls to compute

OU alum encourages girls to compute

Hillary Lewandowski hasn’t always felt like she belonged in the world of coding. Today, the Oakland University alum wants to get more girls involved.

Hillary Lewandowski hasn’t always felt like she belonged in the world of coding. Today, the Oakland University alum wants to get more girls involved. 

“I can't speak for every girl, but I think the main reason why girls shy away from engineering is that they feel intimidated by it,” Lewandowski said. “For me, I didn't think I was enough of a geek. I didn't get exposure to coding until I was about 17 years old, so I assumed I was way behind the curve, and I would have to work harder in the early years of my college education.” 

Lewandowski graduated with a double Bachelors of Science in computer science and biology in 2012, and then earned her graduate certificate in biomedical sciences one year later. 

Despite feeling reservations in anticipation of sexism in the field, and her worry of not having as much experience as others, Lewandowski said she has been treated as an equal by other employees and never felt prejudice in computer science. 

She wants to get the word out to girls that computing is an option. 

“There was a stereotype with Computer Science; it was an assumption that you were coding since you were a kid, and you eat, live, and breathe code,” Lewandowski said. “It’s just not true. There are certain people like that, but they don't outnumber the average Joes, and college courses definitely introduce those who have no previous experience.” 

Lewandowski wanted to utilize the organization to introduce girls to computing. As an active participant in Explorathon, a day where thirty female STEM presenters hold interactive workshop sessions for 400 female students in grades 9-12, she decided to share her computing there. 

To keep things fun, Lewandowski created coding for “Pellet Girl,” a game similar to Pac-Man in program Game Maker, and had them work on it during the day-long course. 

"When I started thinking about my presentation, I knew that I wanted the girls to be able to write a small amount of code but see something noticeable happen on the screen,” Lewandowski said. “I had a little bit of experience with a program called Game Maker that allowed you to use a lot of drag and drop functionality to build a video game, and I figured a game would capture their attention a little bit more than building a simple website.” 

She taught the girls most of the coding, and saved full copies of the games on flash drives donated by OU’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, to show them the basis of what goes into making a video game. 

In the family Lewandowski’s interest in engineering was not a far fall from the family tree. Her father, Michael Latcha, Ph.D., is associate professor of mechanical engineering at OU. 

Latcha said his daughter has always acted as a mentor, from her current work with girls in coding, to her days as an elementary school student when she participated in the school’s chapter of Mathcounts, to her high school years when she tutored students in math on a regular basis. 

“With the pressures of new jobs and exploring new chapters of life, it is very rare that a new graduate takes the time to mentor others to achieve similar success,” Latcha said. “With Hillary, however, this is no surprise, she has always understood and embraced the notion of service to others.” 

One of the pair’s proudest moments came at Lewandowski’s college graduation, when she was handed her undergraduate degrees by her father at the two commencement ceremonies she walked in. Her father was also one of the speakers. 

While she found success in engineering, and recommends it to young women, for those interested into the field, Lewandowski said it’s better not to go in blind. Rather, she suggests looking into the field and learning more about it beforehand. 

“My advice for girls considering engineering is to do a little research,” Lewandowski said. “You don't necessarily have to create projects on the side, but getting a feel for what engineering is all about will help guide any decisions about the best major for yourself.” 

For more information about the Computer Science program at Oakland University, visit oakland.edu/secs/cse