Although it would be easy for Lewis-Clark State College junior Bunmi (Debbie) Ogidan to feel down about all the craziness she has gone through the past couple of years, any negative attitude does not compute with the computer science major.
Instead, she is making the most of her time at the college, despite all the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual internship with Microsoft, and not having a family member located within 1,000 miles of the Lewiston, Idaho, campus.
“With my background and what my family always told me, you can reach for the sky and if you work hard, you can get it,” said Ogidan, who is also known as Debbie around campus. “I’m not trying to sound like a super woman here because there are times I fell down and cried. I get frustrated too, but I always try to aim for the stars. You can’t reach them if you don’t try.”
Ogidan knows that things don’t always turn out like you plan, but she has done well to make the best of the situation. How she came to LC and her internship are both good examples.
Ogidan grew up in Nigeria with the family, but she became acclimated to big city life, including Lagos, which is roughly the same population as New York City. After graduating from high school, she stayed with relatives in the Maryland-Washington D.C. area, and was preparing to move to Idaho to join her sister, who was a graduate student at the University of Idaho. Ogidan, however, got better funding at LC than UI and so she wound up enrolling at the Lewiston college instead while living with her sister in Moscow.
“The main thing is that I wanted to be close to my family so it helped having my sister at UI,” Ogidan said. “But my first year at LC was a little rough because I was staying in Moscow then and I really didn’t know anyone on campus. I was working at the International Programs Office on campus so I got to meet a lot of other international students, but apart from that, once my classes were over, I would go straight home. So that was a little rough for me.”
When her sister graduated and moved away from UI, Ogidan knew she would have to do something different following her freshman year. That’s when one of her supervisors at the IPO office told her about becoming a Resident Assistant (RA) in one of the dorms. An RA is a student leader who lives on a floor and helps create a community feeling, plans programs and activities, and makes sure residents of the floor follow the rules.
Around the same time, she realized her original goal of becoming a doctor and being a pre-med biology major just wasn’t for her.
“It was such a long year for me so I talked with a friend and he said try Computer Science,” she said. “I decided to give it a shot and took my first CS (computer science) class. I liked it. I had used computers back home but it wasn’t really something that I saw as a career then, not only back home but even here, it’s not something that you see a female person doing.”
Ogidan decided if she was going into computer science, she needed to find a summer job in the field following her sophomore year so she started searching for internships.
“Honestly, coming from my home country, we were taught to push ourselves,” she said. “Finding an internship or job can be pretty hard especially as an international student, but getting an internship is a step in getting exposed to tech outside the classroom to improve your skills. So I opened a LinkedIn account, connected, and learnt from people who had past internship experience. When I first joined CS, it was a love-hate relationship, so it was almost like an extra push to show me why I enjoyed doing it.”
She came across an internship program at Microsoft and Cyborg Mobile, applied, and was accepted. However, last summer was in the middle of the pandemic so instead of working in Seattle, she was part of a virtual group and she worked virtually from her sister’s home in the New York area .
Ogidan was assigned to work with a team of four other interns from colleges across the U.S., including Alcorn State, Texas A&M, Cornell and Stony Brook. She said it was a fun group to work with and they still remain in touch.
“I don’t do awkwardness,” Ogidan said of her friendly personality. “I always try to make it my thing and break the ice. It was a great experience. With students coming from large U.S. universities, it’s easy to feel like you are not good enough but that was never the case. I worked with people from MIT, Harvard and Cornell and I was still able to make an impact. In the end you are all the same people just trying to get better. Even virtual, it was a great experience.”
Ogidan said she can’t get into a lot of details about what they did for confidentiality reasons, but the group focused on a problem and then built a product for it. They also received user feedback so they could make alterations over the seven weeks. Rather than just do all of their work on computers (coding), Ogidan and her crew filled roles as product managers, who help with design, product vision, interact with customers and work cross functionally with others. She said she wasn’t aware of product managers prior to the internship, but this could be an area where she winds up in.
“At the end of the day, we were able to present a prototype to Microsoft VPs,” Ogidan said. “We coded it ourselves and brought the product to life. It was a great experience. My confidence has definitely increased and so have my technical skills. I am excited for my second internship with Microsoft this summer and look forward to improving my skills in the 12 weeks. ”
Ogidan said the team had coaches and mentors to work with, and met with other intern groups and executives.
“I definitely learned there is nothing that you can’t do as long, and I know it sounds cliché, you put your mind to it,” she said. “I love it when my code runs well and when it doesn’t, I don’t like it but I learned to always put in my best effort. It’s OK to fail as long as you fail and learn from it and fix it. Even in college, it’s OK.”
She said the other thing that was reinforced is don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.
“That’s not always easy,” she said. “I think about how tough that is for new students coming here and not knowing anyone. I try to help international students and even local students coming from 6-7 hours away. That’s the fun part of my RA job, connecting to students and helping them.”
Ogidan said she likes the LC computer science program and the professors. She also likes the feel of LC State, which allows her to focus on her school work. She plans to graduate in the spring of 2022 and eventually go to graduate school. She said eventually she may have her own start-up company one day.
“Aside from that, I definitely want more girls to make an impact in Computer Science and tech,” she said. “Not just girls, but black girls, Latino girls, girls from different minorities. I want to go back home or make a foundation back home, to help people, especially girls, to get them into tech at a young age. When you hear of computer science, you don’t think of anything except coding and typing on a laptop all day, but I got to see with my internship the wide range of possibilities you can do with tech. I got to learn some new programming languages and I got to see a product develop from start to finish.”
For now, she’s happy to help her fellow residence life students feel more at home and push them to achieve their goals as well.
“I make sure they get to know me and make everyone feel at home and comfortable,” she said. “Being an RA and connecting with international students is a great way to connect to people and encourage them. I want us all to succeed."