How a Portland State student group makes the major more welcoming for all
If you’re a current or prospective computer science student, you may have heard of We in Computer Science, more commonly known as WiCS, one of PSU’s student-led computer science groups. But do you know much about the group’s goals or what it offers for CS students? WiCS’s 2020-2021 president, Alejandro Castaneda, weighs in on four key things to know about the group.
WiCS was originally founded as “Women in Computer Science” by a group of women at PSU who felt that they didn’t belong and that there wasn’t a space for them in computer science.
That out-of-place feeling was largely due to a general trend in tech: “As courses go on to the upper division, the amount of women and people of color in classes just drops down significantly,” Alejandro explains. “This is something seen throughout the whole industry, where people of color and women have higher burnout rates . . . It’s this culture of tech that is very exclusionary.”
The group was later renamed to “We in Computer Science” as an acknowledgement that several groups —including women and people of color as well as LGBTQIA+ and gender non-conforming people, first-generation immigrants, and disabled people — face this exclusionary culture.
Its name may have changed, but WiCS has always focused on supporting each of these groups that have been historically underrepresented in computer science. WiCS envisions a future in which these groups are truly included — a future in which diversity is celebrated and people can truly feel that they belong in computer science.
WiCS works to build this future by providing a community in which members can receive advice and guidance from people who may have been through similar experiences. Essentially, as Alejandro says, “In case they are struggling, or in case they’re feeling alone, they have this whole community that is also there to support them.”
3. Mentorship program
WiCS’s mentorship program is one major way in which it builds this community. Mentees are paired up with a mentor (who can, in turn, also be a mentee if they so choose). It’s one of WiCS’s biggest highlights, Alejandro says. The mentor helps foster connections between their mentee and the rest of the WiCS community, and helps guide them through courses and jobs.
The 2020-2021 school year marks the third year of the program, and with 23 mentors and 36 mentees total, it’s still going strong even in this year’s remote world.
Aside from its mentorship program, WiCS also holds several events throughout the year designed to help and support its community. Here are the big ones:
Annual Winter Career in Tech Night: A workshop in which local tech companies are connected with WiCS members to provide real-world advice for resumes, internships, interviews, networking, hiring standards, and everything else career-related.
Annual Spring Hackathon: Participants work with a team over a weekend on a real coding project to encourage community growth and bolster coding skills for students of ALL levels.
Monthly Town Halls: These often feature presentations from members of the tech community and discussions about how to both improve and thrive within the industry.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about WiCS is that they want you to get involved. Alejandro advises checking out WiCS’s website and its Slack channel, and recommends people who are curious to come to one of the events it hosts.
Just taking the initiative to attend a WiCS event is a fantastic first step. “Even if your video’s off, even if your mic is on mute, you still showed up,” Alejandro says. That bit of involvement can lead to deeper participation and connection, and can potentially create an experience that’ll stick with you for years.
WiCS may focus on supporting groups that are historically underrepresented in computer science in particular, but that doesn’t mean that only people in those groups can be a part of its community. Anyone who shares WiCS’s vision of a future where everyone can feel welcome in computer science is encouraged to take that first step and check the group out!
She served as president of Winona State University from 2005-2012, after which she became a distinguished professor of public service at Portland State.
Watch an interview with Ramaley by Liza Schade on May 22, 2020 in the PSU Library Archives, in which she discusses lessons learned during her time as president of PSU, ideas behind the new University Studies curriculum, diversifying student and faculty, and creating safer and more inclusive university spaces.
Gladys McCoy, ’67
First African American elected to public office in the state of Oregon
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on February 28, 1928, to Tilman Sims and Lucile Dawson and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, McCoy grew up during the Depression in the Jim Crow South.
The first in her family to attend college, McCoy graduated in 1949 from Talladega College in Alabama. She moved to Portland, married William McCoy, and had seven children before she decided to pursue a graduate degree at Portland State University. She received a master’s degree in social work in 1967.
During her years of service, McCoy focused on issues of diversity in public workplaces, public health programs and social services for low-income populations, and justice and human rights.
In 2018, the Multnomah County Commission adopted the Gladys McCoy Standard, which directs the county to interview qualified candidates of underrepresented groups for leadership roles in county departments.
Gladys McCoy died in Portland on April 11, 1993. Each year, the Multnomah County Office of Community Involvement presents the Gladys McCoy Lifetime Achievement Award for “volunteer service dedicated to improving the county community.”
Avel Gordly, ’74
First African American woman to be elected to the Oregon Senate
Born Feb. 13, 1947, Avel Gordly served in the senate from 1997 to 2009. Previously, she served for five years in the Oregon House of Representatives.
Gordly graduated from Girls Polytechnic High School in 1965 and worked at Pacific Northwest Bell until 1970, when she enrolled at Portland State. She earned a degree in the administration of justice in 1974, the first person in her family to graduate from college. She went on to work for the Oregon Corrections Division as a women’s work-release counselor and later as a probation officer.
She was elected state representative from north and northeast Portland in 1992. In 1996, she was elected to the Oregon Senate, where she served from 1997 to 2009.
In 2008, OHSU opened the Avel Gordly Center for Healing, which provides mental health and psychiatric services. Gordly has also served as a professor of black studies at PSU.
First woman to serve on the Public Utility Commission
Nancy Ryles served in the Oregon House of Representatives, the Oregon Senate and as one of three members of the state’s Public Utility Commission. She was known as an advocate for education and for equality for women and minorities. An elementary school in Beaverton is named after her.
Born Nancy Ann Wyly, she graduated from Jefferson High in Northeast Portland and was chosen as Portland Rose Festival Queen in 1955. Ryles attended Portland State and Willamette University, but did not graduate from college.
Ryles served on the Beaverton School Board from 1972 to 1978. The Oregon Education Association gave her its Human Rights Award in 1974, and she was named Beaverton’s “First Citizen” in 1979. She was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1978, the Oregon Senate in 1982, and was appointed to the Oregon Public Utility Commission in 1987.
In July 1990, Ryles was diagnosed with brain cancer. She died in September at age 52. Her early death gave her farewell speech to the Senate added poignance: “The challenge then is to do the best we can … wherever we are … in whatever time we have. I hope I have done that.”
Before she died, a group of Ryles’ friends decided to honor her legacy by creating a scholarship in her name. She insisted that it go to students who returned to school at PSU after their education was interrupted.
Betty Roberts, ’58
First woman to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals
Betty Roberts was the 83rd Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, the highest state court in Oregon.
She was the first woman on the Oregon Supreme Court and the first woman on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Roberts served from 1982 to 1986 on the high court and from 1977 to 1982 on the Court of Appeals. She graduated from Portland State College in 1958.
A native of Kansas and raised in Texas, Roberts had previously been elected to both chambers of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, but lost bids for the governor’s office and the United States Senate, both in 1974. She was married three times, including to Frank L. Roberts and Keith Skelton, both of whom she would serve with in the Oregon Legislative Assembly.
She was a private mediator and senior judge until her death due to pulmonary fibrosis.
Margaret Carter, ’72
First African American in the Oregon House
Born December 29, 1935, Margaret Carter was the first black woman elected to the state’s legislature. She served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1985 to 1999, and the state senate from 2001 to 2009.
Born Margaret Hunter in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Dec. 29, 1935, she was one of nine children. Her father was a Baptist minister, and her mother was a cook at the school cafeteria. After getting married she had five daughters by the age of 28, and moved to Oregon in 1967 to escape abuse by her then husband. In 1970, she enrolled at Portland State, graduating in 1972 with a bachelor of arts degree in education. She earned a masters of education in psychology from Oregon State University in 1973.
She resigned from the senate in 2009 and took a post as deputy director for human services programs at the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Tawna D. Sanchez, ’12
Second Native American to serve in the Oregon legislature
Born and raised in Portland, Sanchez is Native American, of Shoshone, Bannock, and Ute descent. She is currently serving in the Oregon House of Representatives, for the 43rd District which covers parts of north-central Portland. She is the second Native American to serve in the Oregon legislature, and the first to represent Portland.
Sanchez graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Marylhurst University and with a master’s degree in social work from Portland State University in 2012.
Sanchez served on the Oregon Child Welfare Advisory Commission and the Oregon Family Services Review Commission, and has worked with the Native American Youth and Family Center for much of her life.
Debbie Murdock was known and widely respected for her tireless belief in and dedication to public service and Portland State University. She worked tirelessly at PSU for 14 years serving as lobbyist and strategic advisor to the president. Her intellect, passion and powers of persuasion led to tens of millions of dollars in funding for PSU and policy directives that helped transform the University into the largest in the Oregon Higher Education System.
During her time at PSU, Murdock helped secure funding for several major projects, including the Native American Student and Community Center.
Murdock died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 52. Her colleagues and friends established the Deborah Murdock Scholarship to honor her memory in a way that she would have loved: by helping PSU students reach their educational goals.
The Memorial Clock Tower in Urban Plaza is named after Murdock, and is said to represent her energy and vitality.
What if the solution to a more sustainable car is to install a hydrogen engine conversion kit instead of replacing the entire car?
For student-entrepreneur Blake Turner, converting existing gasoline-fueled cars to zero-carbon hydrogen-combustion vehicles using a conversion kit is the solution to a more affordable and sustainable car.
Turner is the founder of Turner Automotive, a business that focuses on converting existing gasoline-fueled cars to hydrogen-combustion. Turner says he got the idea for his business from working on a Chemistry class term project, but the idea wasn’t fully developed until later when he participated in Invent Oregon, a PSU-led competition for college students to address imperative problems.
Here’s how Turner explains Turner Automotive: “Our conversion kit can convert a gasoline engine to hydrogen without modifying any existing components. The idea is that converting a car is much more affordable, convenient and sustainable than building new cars. The affordability comes from the fact that it’s a small conversion kit, rather than a whole new car, and the convenience is that you can go back to burning gasoline at any time, allowing for a gradual transition that does not exist at the moment.”
Turner Automotive was built with the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Turner Automotive is developing its Hydrogen Engine Conversion Kit.
“While COVID-19 has put a serious stop to our ability to work with our mentors, I hope to come out of this pandemic driving a fully converted car! We have explored various business strategies and how we plan to distribute our kit,” Turner said.
We asked Blake about his business and experience at PSU.
“The Cube has been invaluable as a resource for funding, access to mentors, and most importantly access to other student entrepreneurs.”
How did The Cube program help you?
The Cube has been invaluable as a resource for funding, access to mentors, and most importantly access to other student entrepreneurs. This environment of collaboration has helped give us new ideas and strategies that we would not have been able to come up with otherwise.
What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?
Just say ‘yes’. I had a hard time trying new opportunities and going outside my comfort zone. I would doubt myself, and just stick with what I knew. But when I first agreed to participate in Invent Oregon, it changed my life…In the two and a half years I have been with the cube, I have had experiences I never would have dreamed of.
As we continue to refine our technology, we intend to raise more non-dilutive funding through other competitions to fund a Beta test of our Conversion Kits. This Beta Program will convert ten volunteer cars to give us long-term usage info, as well as valuable user feedback to refine our kits. After the Beta Test, we will convert a small fleet of vehicles. We have talked with PSU about converting the PSU facilities fleet, but this is still in its early stages. After the first fleet conversion, we plan on selling to individual consumers to scale up production before targeting larger fleet operators.
Turner planned to graduate in 2022, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put that on hold for now. In the meantime, he is working out his education plan. After graduating Turner said he plans to take his business as far as he can. “Outside of my business, I plan on pursuing a career in communications, specifically technical communications, ideally representing an engineering team and communicating their projects to other sectors,” Turner explained.
Visit the Cube webpage to learn more, or find out more about Turner Automotive.
— Autumn Barber
This is one a series of profiles about students in the Cube program, a four-month intensive course that is designed to prepare student entrepreneurs for launch and go-to-market for their companies.
Buying a home is the quintessential American Dream. Couch is the evolution of a simple idea to make homeownership more achievable for partners or groups of individuals.
The idea for Couch was developed by MBA students Jesse Harding and Jacob Taddy, evolving from Taddy’s MBA Pioneering Innovation team in 2018. Together, they created Couch, a business that makes it easier for people to invest in a home either as a group or in a partnership.
Here’s how Harding explains Couch: “Couch uses its system of service and educational resources to create a holistic ecosystem that supports buying partners in being more competitive and reducing risk in the venture by helping prepare them for co-owning and management of their property. Think of it as TurboTax for shared home buying.”
Couch was created through the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Couch is in development.
Harding describes Couch’s business this way: “We are focused on improving homeownership access and affordability by making buying and then owning a home with others easier. We take a proactive approach, streamlining the organization, decision making and administrative aspects of buying that is further complicated when you don’t fit within the conventional box of buying with a spouse or as an individual.”
We asked Jesse about his business and experience at PSU.
“Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. They may not always be readily apparent. Always ask.”
How did The Cube program help you?
The Cube provided a dynamic community of innovative thinkers that I could learn from. The ability to share insights and resources made my concept stronger. I also really benefited from the informal accountability that emerged from our group dynamic. Juan, Himalaya, and Xuan [the Cube’s staff] were always there, gently pushing and supporting me along the way.
What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?
Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. They may not always be readily apparent. Always ask. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance in whatever form you need it. You’d be surprised how willing faculty and advisors are to support you.
Oh geez! A lot. Of course, we’re looking for funding. We’re still focused on the build-out of our IP (Title Selector, Partnership Agreement Builder, etc.). You can never have too much market validation. So, I’m working on a couple of Study Cases and using lean surveys to that effect.
Harding graduated in June 2020 with an MBA and a graduate certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.
“Moving forward, I’m focused on positions where I can merge storytelling and strategy. That could be public or private so long as the net benefit of the work is that it grows community. Ideally, within the next ten years you’ll see me helping to lead the charge behind a high-impact social innovation/social enterprise,” Harding said.
Looking for a sweet treat? Look no further than Woppa! alfajores. Created by four founders, Woppa! is a business that creates GMO-free alfajores sandwich cookies that come in a variety of flavors.
One of the four founders of Woppa! is innovator and student-entrepreneur German Ochoa. Ochoa is a senior at Portland State University majoring in Global Supply Chain Management.
Ochoa’s business model is focused on sustainability and inclusion while sharing delicious alfajores with the world, which are sandwich cookies found in countries like Spain and Argentina. After a year of research and development, Ochoa found that the only way to stand out from the competition was to create a sustainable product “that can genuinely represent and inspire those who follow their dream.”
Woppa! was created with the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Woppa! is in the process of completing its production line and looking to expand to a second facility.
We asked German about his business and experience at PSU.
“The uncertainty can be your best or worst ally, but you gotta trust yourself so things can turn out for the best.”
How did The Cube program help you?
The Cube has made great connections for me in the food industry and advising on a few essential steps to execute my next phases, whether it is preparing financial opportunities down the row or ensuring my company’s IP (intellectual property).
What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?
The uncertainty can be your best or worst ally, but you gotta trust yourself so things can turn out for the best. That is why you are called an entrepreneur, take the risk because no one will do it for you.
Next is to open a second facility here in Portland to ensure a lean process that would allow me to grow in different regions.
Ochoa anticipates graduating in the fall and plans to finish two of his certificates in Food and Beverage and Social Innovation at PSU. In terms of his business Ochoa said he plans to “expand more in the food industry and find more opportunities where my knowledge can serve others.”