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Leila Hawana takes a new direction in Computer Science
Leila Hawana takes a new direction in Computer Science

When Leila Hawana first found the New Beginnings program, she had recently graduated with her bachelor’s in music and math and she was hoping to launch her career in a new direction at a price she could afford. Unlike other comparable computer science programs, Portland State offered her the best academic choice that fit both her budget and her professional goals. 

The field of computer science was not foreign to Leila, whose father is a software engineer; however, the prospect of entering an arena already familiar to her at first gave this creative student pause. “I want to have a balanced life doing something I’m passionate about,” she said. “I knew I could never find that in music, but that balance might also be difficult to find in computer science.” 

Leila was torn, but willing to learn more. With an open mind, she entered Portland State’s New Beginnings program, a nine-month program that prepares high-achieving post-baccalaureate students for graduate school in Computer Science. The question she had asked herself before entering the program—would Computer Science be too much of the same?—was soon answered.

“I feel like the program was easily the best possible decision I could have made,” Leila said. “I didn’t have four years to spend, but through New Beginnings, I could efficiently learn everything I needed to know. I lived in the program for nine months, and through this, I was able to determine if I could happily live in this field for the rest of my life.”

Following New Beginnings, Leila set her focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), which was bolstered through strong connections she made with student groups and PSU student and faculty mentorships. She has even developed a complex theory or two of her own on the topic of AI.

“The computer sees data in ways that a human does not,” she said. “In order to get into the mind of the computer, you have to understand and internalize what it sees when it looks at the same thing you’re looking at. This is how you get to know its weaknesses and strengths, and only then can you understand what needs to happen next and why.”

A different kind of empathy has also inspired Leila to give back by mentoring other students in the Computer Science program. Her ability for navigating a technical terrain and translating the fields’ complexities to new students is just one of the many things that makes this outstanding student so unique.

As a result of her success in the New Beginnings program and the Master’s program at PSU, Leila acquired and successfully completed a competitive internship in data science and machine learning research at Intel this summer. Now, Leila is eager to move on from her first beginnings in Computer Science to make her own mark in this field.

Looking for a way to make your mark? Find out more about Portland State’s New Beginnings program.

We are also now accepting applications for the Graduate Program in Computer Science.