UPDATE: Atlanta, Nov. 18, 2012 - Joy Buolamwini has been named a Rhodes Scholar. Having graduated from Georgia Tech in Spring 2012 with a B.S. in computer science, she will attend the University of Oxford, where she plans to pursue degrees in African studies and global governance and diplomacy.
As an undergraduate, Buolamwini was a Stamps President’s Scholar and received numerous other accolades. She was a two-year recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship, a Google Anita Borg Scholar and a Carter Center distinguished volunteer. Also a recipient of a 2012-13 Fulbright Fellowship, Buolamwini plans to use her grant to improve access to education through her work for the non-profit Zambian Institute for Sustainable Development, an organization that addresses poverty by providing scholarships for students who would otherwise be unable to continue their education.
Finally, Buolamwini has continued her success as an entrepreneur, graduating in 2012 from Georgia Tech’s startup accelerator program, Flashpoint, after founding Techturized, an online community for women built around hair care.
Joy Buolamwini has accomplished quite a bit in her time. She’s lived abroad in her parents’ homeland of Ghana. She’s designed computer games. She’s built websites for African consulates. She’s pole vaulted. She’s founded multiple startup companies dedicated to gaming, mobile applications, web design or some combination of the three. She’s been named a Pepsi Scholar Athlete of the Year. She plays guitar. She writes for Newsweek. She blogs.
Joy Buolamwini is 20 years old.
It’s really no surprise that the third-year computer science major from Cordova, Tenn., is a Stamps President’s Scholar, the most prestigious scholarship awarded by Georgia Tech. Or that she’s won several awards as an undergraduate, including a coveted Astronaut Scholarship, created by the Mercury 7 astronauts and awarded each year to help the United States maintain its global leadership in science and technology. Or that she was named the College of Computing’s Outstanding Sophomore for 2009-10.
Indeed, what might be a surprise is if, by her 25th birthday, Joy Buolamwini has not yet taken over the world. Or at least designed its Official Website.
“I’m fascinated by the Internet,” says Buolamwini, whose burgeoning career was sparked as a middle schooler by the screeching, honking sound of a dial-up connection hitting home. In things Web, she is largely self-taught, tackling XHTML and cascading stylesheets before moving on to Java and PHP. Her first opportunity at actual design came, ironically enough, when her high school Latin club decided it wanted a cyber presence. And she was hooked.
Then, once Buolamwini waded into the college application and admission process, she became frustrated by how all the necessary information was so fragmented. Not even yet enrolled at Georgia Tech, she began working on Admissions Conquered, a website that centralizes admission resources and can deliver customized information for its users. She entered the site in the first InVenture Prize competition and became the only freshman finalist in the event’s inaugural year.
But Buolamwini was just getting started. In her first two years of college—during which she was active in student organizations such as Minorities@CC and Women@CC, not to mention the perfect 4.0 grade point average she maintained—she managed to keep her web design business (Jovial Designs) thriving. Past projects include:
Ethiopian embassy in Cote D’Ivoire: Buolamwini created the official website for Ethiopia’s diplomatic presence in the Ivory Coast, with information on the embassy itself and the services it offers, as well as on investment opportunities in Ethiopia for Cote D’Ivoire citizens.
GT Computing Camps: Working in cooperation with the College’s Office of Outreach, Enrollment and Community, Buolamwini built a site to promote the various computing summer camps offered for all high school-age students, from rising 9th graders to graduates about to start college.
Frema Fine Art: This site shares the African-themed paintings and kente cloth designs of the Tennessee artist Frema (also known as Patricia Buolamwini—Joy’s mother. “My parents are crazy awesome,” the younger Buolamwini says. Her father, John, is a professor in the University of Tennessee’s College of Pharmacy).
Another website of which Buolamwini is quite proud, though it’s not a formal client of Jovial Designs, is the site for The Firewall, the College of Computing’s monthly student magazine. It’s the student organization she spends the most time supporting, serving as its chief web developer and creating its online presence.
It’s a safe bet more website inspiration will result from Buolamwini’s summer 2010 trip to Barcelona, Spain, as part of the College’s summer abroad program.
“Being in Europe for the summer and traveling to Spain, France, Italy and the British Isles has been an incredible journey. Apart from admiring monuments, exploring world renowned museums, skateboarding in the streets with locals, eating wonderful desserts, and attempting to improve my Spanish, speaking to individuals willing to spare minutes or hours to share their joys and sorrows has provided me insights that I never imagined,” she says. “As a computer science major, I realize I can no longer immerse myself in a technological cocoon that excludes so many people and experiences. Instead, I must strive to attune my ears to the true needs of those who might be helped by technological solutions while considering sustainability, accessibility and affordability.”
To get to know more about Joy Buolamwini, check out her blog, Jovial Joy.