For this edition of the Allen School’s Undergrad Spotlight, we check in with sophomore Hannah Werbel, a computer science major from Sammamish, Washington. Werbel was named the Freshman Medalist in the UW President’s Medalist awards in recognition of her academic performance and extra-curricular involvement on campus. In addition to serving as a teaching assistant for our introductory programming courses, Werbel is a student assistant at the UW’s DO-IT Center, a member of the Husky Marching Band, and president of the Washington Association of Blind Students.
Allen School: First off, congratulations on being selected as a UW President’s Medalist!
Hannah Werbel: I was extremely surprised when I found out that I won this award. I was in class when I got the call to inform me that I had won. Checking the voicemail afterwards, I honestly thought that it was a prank call. It wasn’t until I got an e-mail and a letter that I realized that this was not a joke. I am incredibly honored and humbled to have received the Freshman Medal. It is extremely rewarding to have all the time and hard work I’ve put into my classes and extra-curricular activities recognized. My family and friends have all supported me throughout my time in college, and I cannot thank them enough for all that they’ve done to help me succeed.
Allen School: Why did you choose to major in computer science?
HW: I chose computer science because of all the creative problem-solving involved. In high school, I would tell people that I wanted to study something that “allowed me to be both creative and logical at the same time.” Computer science was actually the last thing I had on my mind when I would say this.
My dad works in technology, and believed that no matter what major I chose, I should know at least a little bit of computer programming. So, in the spring quarter of my freshman year, I enrolled in CSE 142 to satisfy my father’s requirement. I haven’t looked back since. I was surprised by the amount of creativity involved in computer science. I thought that programming was monotonously typing commands into the computer. In reality though, logical problem solving skills and creative thinking are both integral parts of this subject. Computer science encompasses exactly what I said I wanted to do in high school, and I am very happy that I have found something to study that I am passionate about.
Allen School: What do you find most enjoyable about being an Allen School student?
HW: My favorite thing is the amazing community. The professors, students, and advisers are all extremely supportive and genuinely care about our success as people, not just students. Knowing that I can go to the labs at any time and most likely find at least one person from my classes is really nice. I appreciate the collaborative nature of the major, and that we are encouraged to work together to solve problems. I’ve met so many new people this year from being in study groups and going to office hours. Everyone is motivated and passionate about what they do, and I love that I am constantly learning new things from both my professors and my peers.
Allen School: What activities and interests do you have outside of your studies?
HW: I play the piccolo in the Husky Marching Band. I perform at all of the home football games and occasionally travel for away games. I also played in the basketball pep band this year. Technically, since the band is in the athletic department, I can say that I’m a Division 1 college athlete! I find this amusing, although I believe wholeheartedly that marching band should be considered a sport. I am also a TA for CSE 142/143 and the president of the Washington Association of Blind Students. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, baking, reading, yoga, and hiking.
Allen School: Is there a unique perspective you’d like to share with the Allen School community?
HW: Well, I am blind, so the term “unique perspective” definitely applies here. I literally see the world differently from everyone else — that cliché actually works for me. In all seriousness though, I do believe that my vision has allowed me to “see” and understand things that my fully-sighted peers often miss.
Allen School: How so?
HW: I cannot see anything that is written or projected onto the board, but I can still take notes by listening. So I have come to view lecture as a giant puzzle game. I cannot simply look up to see the equation I didn’t quite catch, or the definition that the professor didn’t say out loud, but I can still fill in the information by finding “the missing piece” that fits with everything else. If I miss an equation, but know that A and B are related as such, and that now we are talking about C which relies on A and B, then I can usually make a pretty good guess at my missing equation and keep up with the rest of the class.
I cannot zone out during lecture and have to be completely engaged in the material in order for me to make the most of my time there. This is how my vision helps me. I have to work harder during class, and often have to put in more time and effort outside of class to make up for the information I missed during lecture, but overall I learn everything at a deeper level than I would otherwise. I also believe that often being viewed as “disabled” has exposed me to many misguided assumptions. This has helped me to personally maintain a more holistic perspective of people and their abilities, and allows me to interact with all types of people and situations more adeptly.
Allen School: Who or what in your Allen School experience so far have you found most inspiring?
HW: Thus far, the most inspiring thing for me is the challenge and rigor of the courses. I find the subject of computer science fascinating, and am constantly amazed at how much of it I don’t know. The subject expands far past basic Java programming, and it is inspiring to me to see all of the potential and possibilities that lie ahead. There is so much about computer science that is still to be discovered and implemented. Tackling challenging problems and attempting to comprehend abstract ideas inspires me to engage with the topics even more. I’ve always enjoyed puzzles, and I view computer science as a giant mystery that I am coming closer and closer to understanding.
Hannah embodies the UW’s commitment to excellence and engagement, and we’re proud to have her as a member of the Allen School community!