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Big Ideas: Computer Science for EveryoneAugust 3, 2018

Technology touches everybody’s life. And everybody should have the opportunity to shape technology.

That’s the guiding principle behind Alyssia Jovellanos’s efforts to inspire girls and young people from underrepresented communities to pursue studies in computer science and software engineering.

“I really dream of a future where those who build and imagine technology reflect the communities and people we build it for,” says the fourth year Computer Science student.

A chance meeting with a software engineer that her brother was dating led a teenage Jovellanos to recognize the impact she could have on the world from behind a computer monitor.  That one interaction opened her eyes to the value of developing her skills in computer science and software engineering, and charted her career path. And it’s also inspired her outreach efforts.

“I want to be that same person for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds or who are traditionally underrepresented in computer science,” she says.

Her vision of a more inclusive technological world has led to her involvement in a variety of initiatives. Along with serving as president of the McMaster Computer Science Society, Jovellanos founded Women in Computer Science, and co-founded DeltaHacks – Canada’s first student-run Hackathon for Change. She also works with a McMaster initiative that helps elementary students learn about computer coding.

Recognition of her hard work has followed. In 2016, Jovellanos was selected for the Student of Vision ABIE Award by the Anita Borg Institute, a prestigious international award recognizing a student making a significant contribution to technology.

She has also been chosen as a Wilson Leadership Scholar, and as part of that program, has launched a new community initiative. Project Re-Tech aims to gather computers being replaced by large organizations like McMaster, then clean and refurbish them for distribution to low-income households.

In September, Jovellanos will accept the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF) Women in Engineering Ambassador Award and she will be attending the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit where she will be honoured as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar. 

“In this technology revolution, I don’t want to leave people behind,” says Jovellanos. “Having access to a computer is such a game changer for families and students.”

It’s a cause she’ll focus on when she returns to McMaster from California, where she’s spent her summer working as a software engineering intern with Google. The job – working on the Gmail Intelligence team – makes it impossible to forget just how much impact computer scientists and software engineers can have.

And learning how to build systems that can change the world fits perfectly with Jovellanos’s big ideas perspective on using technology to help people and solve big problems in areas like education and healthcare.

She doesn’t know what her future brings, but she knows one thing: “I want to be working on something with high impact.”