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Overcoming Hearing Deficit, UCLA Computer Science Student Uses Her Own Experiences to Empower Others

Natalia Luzuriaga herself knows firsthand the power of technology in making people’s lives better by overcoming her own experiences of partial hearing loss.

“I’ve always been taught to help others,” said the fourth -year computer science student at UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and recipient of the 2022 Levi James Knight, Jr. Scholarship. “I find a lot of satisfaction in helping people and guiding them on the path to becoming what they want to be.”

This mentality has been with Luzuriaga since her childhood, and helped her get the scholarship founded by Evalyn Knight, whose husband, Levi Knight, Jr., has worked at UCLA for more than two decades. The scholar is designed to identify distinguished students from all engineering disciplines at UCLA Samueli.

When Luzuriaga was in first grade, he failed an exam for the first time. But it wasn’t a test where he could study. It was a hearing test.

Luzuriaga was shocked when he was diagnosed with mild-moderate hearing loss and thought at first it was a mistake. After all, he could hear people speaking well, unless they were whispering. He was later fitted for hearing aids, which helped him hear things clearly for the first time, but it also made him feel insecure and self -conscious at first.

“It’s something I don’t want people to know; I always keep my hair down and never put it in a ponytail, ”she said. “But I told my friends about it, and they were like,‘ Oh, it’s so good! Can I see it? ‘ That’s when I knew it wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but it was a really cool part of my being.

Experienced in how to use technology to improve his daily life, Luzuriaga created his first app during a hackathon while he was in high school. Inspired by his peers with more severe hearing loss, Luzuriaga created an app called “sPeach” so that his friends and others could practice pronouncing words correctly without relying on the help of a speech therapist. The app uses language recognition technology to enable direct user feedback via smartphones to help it build independence and trust.

“It was the first app I made that wasn’t for entertainment purposes. I’ve made games before that, but it’s an actual app that people can use, and they can benefit from it,” said Luzuriaga.

“It was the first app I made that wasn’t for entertainment purposes. I’ve made games before that, but it’s an actual app that people can use, and they can benefit from it,” said Luzuriaga. “So when I realized that whatever I decided to work on in the future, I wanted to make sure it would help people in some way.”

Luzuriaga’s passion for creating new technology didn’t stop there. When it comes time for college, the East Coast wants to change the landscape, and a place that is buzzing with promising future technological discoveries. What better place than Southern California and UCLA!

“It’s a wonderful school. It has a lot of active student organizations that are doing very impactful work, which I know I want to be a part of, ”he said. He chose the major in computer science not because of the desire to work in established large technology companies but because of the skills he would learn and translate into new technology to help make people’s lives easier.

Growing up in a close -knit family, Luzuriaga said transferring culture and surroundings to the West Coast was not easy at first. And just as he was starting to feel more at home after his freshman year, the pandemic hit. While distance learning has impacted UCLA, Luzuriaga finds himself without an internship or job. But he and his friends were terrified of doing something new. So, they enrolled in Bruin Labs, a 10-week accelerator program put in place by Bruin Entrepreneurs that teaches participants how to create their own start-ups.

Luzuriaga and his friends did Hussle, a freelance marketplace mobile app that supports college students to start and manage their own small businesses selling products or offering services to others on campus. The app was launched in April and already has over 200 users.

“Stay true to yourself; make sure you think about what you want to do with life and target companies that are compatible
the kind of work you want to do, ”Luzuriaga said.

“We’ve noticed that there are people on campus who cut their hair, there are people on campus who do manicures, but the only way you can find them is through word of mouth or Instagram,” Luzuriaga said. “That’s why we want to create a platform that is available to all UCLA students and that will allow people to grow their small businesses by reaching their target audience.”

With the help of the scholarship, Luzuriaga said he is grateful to have more time to spend on extracurricular activities. He is part of Nova – Tech for Good, a student organization that aims to create technical solutions for nonprofits within the LA area and beyond. Luzuriaga is leading the project for creating a mobile app called “iiDecide,” an iOS chat app that connects victims of sexual assault so they can talk about their experiences in a safe and comfortable space. “The mission and what it will impact for that community is definitely something I really have, and it’s also in line with my values ​​which is why I decided to go into computer science in the first place,” he said.

Luzuriaga is also a member of Sigma Eta Pi, an entrepreneurship fraternity on campus, where he meets like -minded people who are into entrepreneurship and the startup and venture capital space. She serves on the advocacy committee of the Society of Women Engineers which hosts events to encourage women engineers to advocate for themselves. Volunteering to teach coding classes in high school, she hosts workshops for, an annual event where high school students come to UCLA to learn how to code and exploring technology.

When he first came to UCLA, Luzuriaga said he felt a lot of pressure to go into big tech, which is what he sees most of his peers doing. But following his entrepreneurial passions has taught him that there are many different ways to find success as a software engineer and that it’s OK not to follow traditional paths.

In all of this, Luzuriaga thanked all he has accomplished so far for the strong work ethic he has learned from his parents and encouraged other students not to be afraid to put in more effort to achieve. ot their purposes.

“Stay true to yourself; Make sure you think about what you want to do in life and target companies that are in line with the kind of work you want to do, ”he said. “And then from there, you can make your own path that you expect, and you build the life you want to have.”

His second piece of advice? “Work hard and don’t underestimate yourself,” he said. “I’m not naturally intelligent and struggled a lot with my academics, especially in computer science. But if you believe in yourself, you will be amazed at what you can and will do.

Sara Hubbard contributed to this story.

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