Published: Sept. 13, 2018

Name: Layne Hubbard
Hometown: Ypsilanti, MI
Advisor: Tom Yeh (Sikuli Lab)

My Path to Engineering

Layne hiking with the Flatirons in the background. I grew up in Michigan and spent a lot of my time swimming deep in our many lakes and rivers. As you might guess, I love exploring the unknown, spending hours in a nebulous environment, making discoveries, and doing it all over again.

I became interested in computer science when I was an undergraduate student working in the cognitive science laboratory on campus. Our lab received the codebase for a software game that researchers in Germany had used to test cognitive skills. To adapt the game for our use and replicate the study, I crawled through the code to find and fix bugs. Soon after our lab reviewed a research paper for publication that used computational models of the mind to conduct studies on human cognition. I realized that I couldn’t adequately critique the research if I didn’t understand how the computational models were implemented. So, I enrolled in a programming course.

I loved the constant problem solving involved in programming and I knew it was a skill that would allow me to work in many diverse fields through my lifetime – from education to health care to artistry. I took to it like a fish to water and in 2015 I graduated No. 1 in my class with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Before starting graduate school, I deferred my entry for a year and worked as a data engineer at a tech startup in Santa Barbara, California. The startup was recently acquired by Amazon to power their virtual assistant, Alexa. Through this work, I was able to rapidly grow my technical skills and learn the habits of high-functioning teams. I developed many amazing friendships.

I made the decision to leave the startup and enter the PhD program because I knew that I wanted my work to support young children in high-need situations. I had previously taught preschool and saw how early experiences critically shape development across a lifetime. Thus, I knew that by investing in early childhood innovation, we could positively shape the outcomes of adverse experiences, including trauma.

Why CU Boulder? 

I chose to return to CU for graduate school because of the strong relationships that I had formed with my faculty mentors as an undergraduate at CU. They had continually supported me, inspired me, and advocated for me. I also had another reason for returning to CU. In my K-12 education, I had switched schools 12 times due to factors including living in foster care and in SAFE homes. These disruptions consistently challenged my progress, and I wanted the chance to build atop the strong foundation that I had formed in undergrad. Through my involvement in the Guardian Scholars program, which supports former foster youth like me, my faculty mentors understood my nontraditional experiences and were committed to supporting my vision of building creative tools and technologies for young children.

I entered the computer science doctoral program in the fall of 2015, where I joined the lab of Dr. Tom Yeh, my Big Data professor. I am now studying human-robot interaction and human-centered design with an interdisciplinary team of computer scientists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, designers, educators, musicians, and artists. I am using these research methods to build a multilingual stuffed animal toy that helps young, preliterate children tell reflective stories about their creative play. My work, MindScribe, recently won an Early Childhood Innovation Prize for its ability to maximize children’s potential in their first few years of life, as well as second place in a human-robot interaction student design competition. I am so grateful for this opportunity to work hard and build something of value.

CU has given me access to experiences and opportunities that I never imagined for myself—and I love the unexpected. From serving on the Finance Board while managing a student government fund of $23 million, to collaborating with theater students to design the conceptual elements for an interactive traveling showcase called CU Boulder NEXT. I am continually able to develop my skills by simultaneously providing service to my community.

CU continues to support my goals through Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiatives on campus including the New Venture Challenge and the Catalyze CU accelerator program. I competed in the New Venture Challenge during undergrad, which introduced me to many startup essentials and exposed me the challenges of pitching a business! Now, as a graduate student, I am developing my business skills through the Catalyze CU program, which is matching me with tailored workshops and generous mentorship to help me bootstrap the development and launch of a product.

Beyond academia and intellect, CU has supported the needs of my physical well-being too. We have plentiful, nutritious food at the C4C, compassionate student health care, and a great international community in Graduate and Family Housing. Oh, and our Rec Center has several lanes of competitive swimming and a fantastic diving well for me to explore.