Envisioning Equality in Computer Science

Alex (right) going for a walk with a friend

Originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, Alejandro Castaneda, (Alex) discovered Portland State University in high school while he was searching for Computer Science programs and schools in the Pacific Northwest that participated in the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program. He told me his mom said “I want you to go to school somewhere that is close enough that I can drive to you.” He went on and told me that he loved the way campus looked and the close proximity and connections with large companies like Nike and Intel. He wanted to attend college in a big city that was growing so that he would have lots of job opportunities after graduating. “Even today, the city of Portland is one of my favorite parts about attending PSU,” he says. The discounted tuition rate he has with WUE made it possible for him to attend PSU and that’s what helped make the decision.

When he was growing up, he would always help his family with technical stuff and grew to have an interest in computers, so choosing Computer Science was natural. However, when he got to college classes, he discovered that the content he would be learning was very different than what he was expecting. “It’s less…IT than I expected. More data. Like, less fixing and more making. But I love it. The most exciting part is being able to create whatever you want. There are infinite possibilities in the field of Computer Science.”

Alex and I talked for over an hour, but I feel like I only got a hint at his depth of knowledge and interest in the topics we covered. He has such a vast understanding of not only the subject matter he studies but the social and cultural significance around it, and what the implications are for the future of his field.

The main thing I noticed during our conversation is that Alex is committed to building equality in the field of computer science. He is involved with so many organizations I could barely keep track. He is the Mentorship Director at WiCS (We in Computer Science), a student group that works to challenge the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people, women, gender non-conforming, first-generation immigrants, people of color, and disabled people from the field of computer science. “We aim to build spaces where people feel as though ‘We Belong’ so it’s exciting to partake in something that will change our community. In the mentorship program, my team works to pair students in need of a mentor with those who are seeking someone to help out, so it’s extremely beneficial.”

He works with tech organizations off-campus as well. “By being part of the campus, you are also part of the city. You can easily meet so many other people who aren’t students.”

He is involved with the organization Out in Tech: a non-profit that aims to unite LGBTQ+ tech community. They do a lot of Portland community events and mixers. He also mentioned the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, a national organization of professional engineers to serve as role models in the Hispanic community. Engineers without Borders do various projects around the city. He said they worked on building solar lamps and a self-sustaining shower designed for homeless populations in the city.

At this point, you may be wondering how on earth he keeps up with all these commitments in addition to going to class and having a social life. He turned his phone toward me so I could see his Google Calendar — it was like a colorful Christmas tree, with overlapping calendar notifications, reminders, and color-coordinated events. In awe, I told him how impressed I was by his commitment and drive and managing this crazy schedule. He laughed and said “I get it from my mom. She is always working. I can’t just sit around and do nothing. So I seem to always occupy myself in some way by taking more than I can handle and then managing all that and feeling so awesome when I do.”

We talked a little bit about his transition from Las Vegas to Portland. He came to Portland not knowing anyone and he said he felt alone for a little while, but decided to try and make friends and was able to meet tons of people through campus. At resource centers like the Global Diversity and Inclusion Club, there were always events going on. Living in Campus Housing his freshman year gave him a lot of points of connection and helped him build friendships with other students. “The university provides structure to the events on campus by posting fliers, and The School of Business highlights every event on campus to get you involved.”

He was telling me he knows so many people now from his involvement though classes, the Ambassador Program, and Campus Recreation, when, by sheer coincidence, he looked up and pointed to someone walking by on the sidewalk outside. “Like her, I actually know her, that’s Amber. We were in the same dorm our sophomore year.” He lives off-campus now, but the roommates he has are friends that he made from living on campus.

He told me something that I hear a lot of students say: “Professors really care about you and try to get to know you. They want to see you succeed. If you actually put in the time and effort, the professors will reciprocate your hard work.”

I was really moved by a story he told about his most pivotal moment at Portland State. “At the end of my Freshman Inquiry class, my professor, Dr. Kenny Bagley, came up to me and extended his hand and told me “Alex, you should get a Ph.D.” I was completely taken aback because I barely considered getting my bachelors, and here my professor who’s known me for only a year was recommending me to pursue a doctorate. This experience motivated me because I feel as though now I have many people invested in my life. He saw capabilities in me that I didn’t even see in myself.”

Here at PSU, we are so proud of students like Alex who work hard to make opportunities equal for everyone. Increasing representation and dismantling structural barriers is so important to building a better world for us all. People like Alex are shaping the future by emboldening others today, and at PSU, the possibilities for this are endless.

Discover your potential. Apply today.

Snow No!

Snow is not common in Portland, but when we do get it, it’s kind of a huge deal. There’s even a website devoted to letting everyone know if snowing or not (chances are, it’s not). Before you start freaking out about the possibility of the lightest dusting, review our guide below to stay cool and safe.

PSU Alert System

If the weather conditions get so bad that it’s dangerous to get to school, PSU will cancel classes (woo-hoo!). Make sure your preferred notification type is set up with the PSU Alert system for the quickest updates on conditions. You can get alerts to your phone or email, and updates will also be posted to Portland State’s main social media handles and the pdx.edu website. You definitely don’t want you to get to campus just to realize there’s no one else here.Keep in mind the Campus Public Safety Office stays open during closures, so you can reach out to them if you need help or have questions.

Class Cancelations

Keep an eye on the weather reports and check your pdx.edu email frequently. Even if PSU does not close, some professors may still cancel classes ahead of time. Yay! Extra time to do homework…just me? Okay, nevermind. If the campus is open but you can’t make it to class safely, contact your professor ASAP. Professors can accommodate students who miss class because of the weather. Your safety is much more important than getting to class. Now is also a great time to review PSU’s list of emergency and public safety resources, including procedures for inclement weather.

Transportation

Don’t risk it. Cars can slip on even the littlest bit of ice and if you’ve never driven in snow, don’t be like me and assume it’s no big deal. Leave your car at home and take public transit instead. Be prepared for delays and crowded spaces. City buses have chains and are prepared for icy or snowy conditions. Better yet, stay home and look out the window and take in the tranquil winter wonderland while drinking a warm cup of cocoa. Check out our blog all about TriMet’s public transit options.

International Student Pursues Passion for Film at PSU

Many people live their entire lives in just one country, some just one city. But not Sebastian Suarez Hode. Originally born in Honduras, his family moved to Mozambique when he was ten years old for his father’s job. After high school, he chose Portland State University and moved 10,000 miles away from his family and friends to pursue his passion for filmmaking. 

Sebastian wanted to study somewhere that had opportunities for growth and success, but not in a city so big he couldn’t overcome the competitive atmosphere in the industry. When I asked him how he knew his future was in the film industry, he said his passion was ignited when he started practicing photography in high school. “I realized I had a talent. Lots of people complimented my work so I began to pursue it further,” explained Hode. I loved the confidence. The focus of his work transformed over time into documentary work. His interests were unlimited; he would research anything from local news to nature, to community services, and charity work.

The thing that drew him to PSU to study film was the benefit of the surrounding city of Portland. “There are lots of up and coming productions here, which is great for a film student.” As we all know, the show “Portlandia” recently brought a ton of attention to the city and built a reputation as a unique place, known for weird, quirky people, who have an obsession with brunch, organic vegan cuisine and SUVs to transport excessive camping gear. “The city is what made the decision for me to attend PSU. Portland is your classroom. It is a great background for subjects in film and photography. It’s a fun, cool city, with close proximity to cool nature like the high desert region, mountains, and beaches along the coast. I can even get on the city train and in 20 minutes I can get to the massive Forest Park.”

Not just for creative pursuits, he says the city had the added benefit and convenience of getting around on public transportation. “The city is easy to navigate and you don’t need a car.” (PSU students can ride the TriMet Streetcar for free with your PSU ID!) “PSU is in the center of downtown, so everything you need is right nearby.”
However, this transition was definitely a huge challenge and the move was intimidating. He arrived in the city not knowing a single person. He was completely on his own and had no family in the United States. For his freshman year, he lived in a dorm on campus where he was able to make friends. “Campus housing places you in dorms with people who you have classes with, so you can make friends easier. Living in a dorm was a great introduction to college because it fosters a tight-knit community.”

He told me the story of the first friends he made at PSU. While waiting in line for the first event on the first day of orientation, he just started making conversation with the other nervous students in line next to him. By the time they got to the front of the line, they were laughing and joking like old friends. “This experience is such a classic college story, but it’s representative of my whole experience at PSU. People will say ‘hi’ to you right away and communicate with you in meaningful ways. The campus is so welcoming and open-minded. The friends I made that day are still some of my closest friendships.”

I learned so much about the School of Film during our interview. Sebastian is working on a Bachelor of Science in Film, but PSU also offers a Bachelor of Arts. He says the difference is in the material you study. The B.S. focuses more on the math and science stuff, while the B.A. focuses on the humanities aspect. Who knew.

His education goal, in addition to graduating with a degree in film, is to come out of school with connections in the industry. “All the professors here at PSU are already working in the field and they help students come out of college with professional connections. All the skills I need are taught in school, but in this industry, the most valuable thing is to know others.”

In addition to classes, Sebastian works on campus in the Undergraduate Admissions office. He is an International Admissions Representative and helps prospective PSU students navigate application and immigration requirements. You can watch videos he made about why he chose PSU and an introduction to an international student at the School of Business!

We are so grateful for the global perspective that Sebastian brings to our community, not just Portland, but also the United States. He is such a driven and passionate student and this is reflected in his work. He made the brave decision to pursue a degree in another country and he enjoys spreading the word about his experience as an international student. If you are an international student and are considering PSU, contact one of our international student counselors to get started on your journey.

6 Best Study Spots on Campus – Ranked

Being on campus in the middle of bustling downtown, we get used to being surrounded by distractions. It can seem impossible to find a place to focus and get work done. As a student, it is super important to study in an environment free of interruptions. With finals week coming up, we scoured campus to find the most productive study spots at PSU.

#6 Academic and Student Recreation Center: Yes, the gym is here, but this building has multiple spots on several floors to get work done. The first floor features plenty of chairs and tables for studying with a group. On a sunny day, you definitely need to visit the expansive 5th floor balcony to study; surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the city and a peekaboo from Mt. Hood.

#5 Karl Miller Center: This stylish building has plenty of solo or collaborative space on almost every floor. The modern design provides ample access to power outlets and natural lighting. CoCo Donuts and Best Baguette are on-premise for when you need a study snack break. Visit CoCo Donuts after 2pm for their stellar happy hour deal: just two dollars for a donut and coffee.

#4 Fariborz Maseeh Hall: Our newest campus building is artfully designed to make the most of natural light, has plenty of seating, tons of outlets, and secluded spots if you look for them. Case Study Coffee is located on the first floor.

#3 Smith Memorial Student Union: This building was designed with students in mind. There are study spaces throughout the entire space with comfy chairs and plenty of tables to spread your work out. Large windows overlooking the beautiful scenery on the Park Blocks provide a relaxing atmosphere to focus and get work done. The sky bridge between Smith and Cramer Hall fills up quickly but if you’re able to find a spot, it’s a good one for getting work done.

#2 Millar Library: If you’re working on a group project, the flexible study areas on the 3rd floor provide ample room with movable furniture and study booths. Students with children under 5 can even reserve a spot in the family study room, a space designed to accommodate kids with toys, books, and a large window. There are also silent study areas in the basement, and 4th and 5th floors for those who need silence to focus.

Viking Pavilion

#1 Viking Pavilion: Our sports arena might seem like an unlikely place for getting work done. Turns out there are several hidden spots, perfect getting work done. There is seating and tables on multiple floors for solo or group study sessions. Versa Cafe on this first floor will keep you caffeinated and focused.

5 Ways to Ease Homesickness

Homesickness can be one of the toughest, most unexpected challenges when you’re new in college. It can really happen to anyone, even if you’re just one city away from home. 


Homesickness feels a lot like like anxiety or depression and usually happens when we feel disconnected from familiar people and places. There are lots of ways homesickness can present itself but the most common symptoms are comparing your old setting with the new one or wanting to call home frequently. You could also have trouble sleeping or eating, feel nauseous, excessively sad or sluggish. 

It’s important to be able to enjoy your college experience! Not everyone’s process to overcome homesickness may be the same, but here are our best suggestions for dealing with these feelings:

Join a club to meet people.

PSU has your back with over 200 student clubs and groups! From a neuroscience club, to Greek life, to Acapella groups, you will definitely find a group of people with shared interests. The website also has links to volunteer and service opportunities if you want to go beyond campus. When you’re feeling down, it’s important to branch out and talk to new people! Even if it’s difficult, and especially if you don’t feel like it. The more you get out there, the more chances you’ll have to meet new friends. 

Visit SHAC.

All students enrolled in at least five credits can visit the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). Counseling Services offers brief individual and group counseling, crisis/emergency services, and workshops throughout the year to support your transition to PSU. Getting help is a really smart and brave thing to go. Actually a lot of students experience homesickness, so you are not alone. Definitely consider visiting SHAC for other health and wellness needs, too, from health and dental check ups, to acupuncture, to scheduling a time in the Mind Spa, which features a massage chair, light therapy and biofeedback games to help you relax.

Distract yourself!

One of the best ways to get yourself out of a funk is to just focus on something else for a little while. Go to the library to study rather than your dorm room, or go for a walk, or check out a new coffee shop, or visit a thrift store. There are unlimited things going on in the city pretty much all the time, you just have to get out there. The 5th Avenue Cinema is a student-run cinema that shows FREE movies for PSU students. The PSU Farmers Market is every Saturday, rain or shine, right on campus at the park blocks. The more places you go, the more people you will meet, and the more chances you’ll have to make friends. Our Visitor Guide also has tons of student-recommended activities (a bunch of them free or discounted for PSU students), restaurants and other cool spots to visit.

Visit the Campus Rec Center.

When you’re feeling bad, it can sound really tempting to loaf under a blanket and dig into a massive tub of ice cream, but this will likely only make you feel worse. To combat this, get some exercise to get those endorphins flowing, our body’s natural feel-good hormones. I always remind myself that the hardest part about going to the gym is just getting dressed and heading out the door. The Rec Center also makes it super easy and convenient to get a sweat going, with all kinds of fitness options, including an Olympic size pool, a hot tub, cardio and weight rooms, and a rock-climbing wall! They also offer a wide range of group fitness classes, including yoga, cycling, and Zumba. If you want to get started but are not sure how, there are also educational classes like lifting and rock climbing for all skill levels. Exercise is so good for our well-being. It has been shown to improve sleep, build confidence, tone muscle, and help with anxiety and depression.

Do you also like getting exercise outdoors? Spending time in nature reduces anxiety and depression and it can be fun to go on an adventure. Our Outdoor Program offers guided hikes throughout the state with a 50% discount for students.

Talk with friends and family back home.

This is an important step. Talking with your loved ones can help you feel more connected and loved. They will want to hear all about your new adventure here. And this is a great time  to ask for a care package including anything from home that would make you feel more comfortable, like photos or blankets, or even a stuffed animal (hey, no judgement here). 

However, just keep in mind that it’s important to not over-rely on your family and avoid your new world. If you notice that you’re spending more of your time talking with people back home than exploring your new environment, you will only prolong these bad feelings. You should set up a weekly time to call or FaceTime back home. This will help you create the space you need during the rest of the week to connect with your life at PSU and gives you something to look forward to.

BONUS tip: Talk to a Professor or Staff Member.

PSU faculty and staff are sympathetic and they want to see you do well here! Do you feel particularly fond of one of your professors, or another staff member like a Resident Assistant? These people are good to reach out to and are here to help you. For so many things, the stress that comes with big changes can be managed by simply talking to someone about what is on your mind. There is a good chance they have also experienced some kind of homesickness at one point and can give you some tips to get adjusted, or even just an open ear to hear you out.

Remember that it’s normal and common to feel homesick during your college experience and that it’s okay to miss home. These feelings normally pass on their own over time, but if they don’t pass or even get worse, there are resources here for when you need the help. Who knows, maybe when you return home you’ll be homesick for Portland! 

Four Essential Autumn Hikes Near Portland



As the days get shorter and temperatures get colder, it might seem like it’s not worth getting motivated to explore the outdoors. One of the best things about attending Portland State is the easy access to nature — any time of year. We’re 90 miles to the coast and 90 miles to Mt. Hood and there’s plenty to explore in between. Here are some nearby hikes that are especially amazing during the fall and cannot be missed out on:


Forest Park – Lower Macleay Trail

Difficulty level: Beginner
Distance: 1.7 miles
Distance from PSU: 11 minute drive, 1 hour on public transportation

Spanning 5,200 acres, Forest Park is one of the largest urban forests in the United States. This lush forest stretches eight miles along the northeast slope of the Tualatin Mountains. The Lower Macleay Trail follows Balch Creek, and hikers can expect to cross several wooden bridges. This trail passes the famous “Stone House”, otherwise known as the “Witch’s Castle,” a 1936 building that has since been abandoned and covered in lichen. Forest Park is a wonderful hike for visitors to experience the beauty of Oregon forests without leaving the Portland city limits.

Trillium Lake

Difficulty level: Beginner
Distance: 2 miles
Distance from PSU: 90 minute drive

There’s a reason this hike is popular. Views of Mt. Hood across a serene mountain lake make it worth the trek. And it’s beautiful year-round; in the fall the beauty is in the leaves and the reflections off the glassy water. It features gorgeous views of Mt. Hood and a wooden boardwalk that winds through the forest. It’s only two miles with a minimal incline, making this hike great for first-timers. Ducks and geese live near the lake, and you might get lucky and see deer grazing among the trees. In the winter, it’s a great beginner snowshoeing trail. Don’t own snowshoes? Rent them from the Outdoor Program!

Silver Falls – Trail of 10 Waterfalls

Difficulty level: Moderate, with lots of stairs (can be icy in cold temps)
Distance: 8.6 miles
Distance from PSU: 90 minute drive

Have you ever walked behind a waterfall? This is one of the most stunning hikes in Oregon and one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest. 50 miles south of Downtown Portland, this hike ambles through lush forest, and takes you past waterfalls that are up to 200 feet tall! This is a long, winding hike, but it’s well maintained and the elevation gain is moderate. You can park at one of the many entrances and take the shorter two or four mile loops.

PSU Outdoor Program is leading a group hike at Silver Falls on November 23! Check out their schedule to view the full list of events.

Cape Horn Trail

Difficulty level: Strenuous
Distance: 6 mile loop
Distance from PSU: 45 minute drive

While this hike is in Washington, just across the Columbia River, it’s only a stone’s throw away from the Portland State campus. If you are up to the challenge of scaling steep inclines and braving muddy trails, you will be able to experience the breathtaking panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge. This hike also takes you past tumbling waterfalls and gives an epic display of the changing autumn foliage.

Oregon is known for its beautiful scenery and there is no shortage of adventure in the area. If you need a little extra motivation to get out and explore this season, head on over to the Portland State Outdoor Program where you can find affordable gear rentals and sign up for guided trips year-round. Have fun out there, and be sure to tag @go2psu on your adventure.

Oregon Promise and Co-Admission

Did you know that you can take classes at PSU while taking advantage of Oregon Promise? It’s called Co-Admission (or dual enrollment), and it allows you to be admitted to both PSU and a participating community college at the same time.

We are supportive of those who choose to pursue higher education through Oregon Promise, and applaud people who are following their passions as it’s a great route towards earning your bachelor’s degree at PSU.

As a co-admitted student you can get the financial support of Oregon Promise, and all the benefits of being enrolled as a PSU student, including access to PSU advising, credits transfers and the ability to begin taking classes at PSU at any time.

A co-admitted student may, in any given term, attend school to earn credit toward your degree in one of three ways:

  1. Take all courses at PSU
  2. Take all courses at the community college
  3. Take some courses at PSU and some at the community college

By enrolling as a co-admit, students will have 10 terms before they have to take courses at Portland State, but within those 10 terms they will have an active student status at PSU. Please note that your home school for financial aid should be the community college, and Oregon Promise funds can only be used for community college classes.

Learn more about co-admission at PSU, and reach out to your PSU Admissions Counselor today to learn more about how Oregon Promise can help get you money to follow your passions and land that perfect career.  

6 PSU Outdoor Study Spots – Ranked

When the sun is shining, it can be hard to study indoors. Here are 6 places, ranked, to study when you want some fresh air.