Happenstance brought Ping Luarn, an international student from Taiwan, to UW Tacoma and its information technology program, but she’s made a home here.
A housemate working at Amazon thought Ping Luarn, keen on studying graphic design, should take a class in computer programming when she was at Shoreline Community College.
Luarn enjoyed the course and was able to combine design, coding and user experience into her education after transferring to UW Tacoma, where she’s graduating magna cum laude in June with a bachelor’s in information technology. Four on-campus jobs helped hone her interests and skills.
Luarn, an international student from Taiwan, came to study in Tacoma after trying to get into the Seattle campus’ competitive informatics program.
“I actually found that I really enjoy the UW Tacoma campus because it’s smaller, and it’s like the environment I had at the community college,” she said, noting smaller classes and access to professors. “It really helped me, because all the staff and faculty are really, really friendly, and it actually makes me feel like they actually care about me.”
When Luarn mentions time management as a skill, it seems an accurate self-assessment. In addition to classes, she’s juggled work as a seminar faciliator for the School of Engineering & Technology and a grader for SET professors. She also is an OGA Fellow for the Office of Global Affairs, helping it update its website on the Drupal content management platform and designing flyers and posters in Canva. And, lastly, she’s working with Marketing & Creative Services to migrate various department websites to an updated platform. Each week brings the challenge of dividing up the maximum of 19.5 hours a student can work on-campus.
Luarn has discovered she likes uncovering what makes a website click with a user and what drives them away.
“With web design you have to know certain things like how you want the website to look and how accessible that is for different kinds of users. That helps a lot, I think, towards my career,” she said. “I really enjoy learning what the users think. When I do my jobs, I like to do user testings to learn what frustrates them, and what makes them feel better, and how we can improve different layouts or usability.”
For her work on campus, Luarn was named Student Employee of the Year in April, bringing a $1,000 award welcomed by a student who went to community college first because it was economical.
As a child, Luarn wanted to study and live in the U.S., where her father went to school and the family traveled frequently on summer vacations. She embraced the English language instruction – required in Taiwan – and listened to English music and movies, admitting she talks “like the actors and actresses in movies to learn English myself.”
Her family often visited California during U.S. trips, but she decided to check out Washington for college. “I really enjoy living here. Everyone’s nice and I love the view. Mount Rainier, it’s so beautiful. I’m not a hiking person, but I really like the nature in Washington. I think Washington is the best state that I’ve been to,” she said, noting her allergies disappeared here.
With the pandemic, she’s been unable to travel home and visit family for two years but hopes to soon. “I really miss food back home. I try to cook it myself, but of course it’s not as good,” she said.
As an international student, she was granted permission to stay an additional year under the federal Optional Practical Training program. It allows students to work for a year in their degree field, and those in STEM fields can extend two extra years. So Luarn will work at two UW Tacoma offices, Global Affairs and Student Affairs, working on website design and databases.
After that, she’d like to stay in the U.S. “My goal is to finish one year working at UW Tacoma, and then try to find a position, maybe in user experience design in the United States,” Luarn said.
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