Hispanic Heritage Month: Elizabeth Ayala Mojica Encourages Minorities to Pursue CS
For aspiring computer scientists, especially those from minority backgrounds, it’s important to find community and belonging within the tech field. For computer science major Elizabeth Ayala Mojica, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, community comes in the form of clubs and organizations at Georgia Tech and beyond.
However, she says the first step to pursuing CS was discovering that she could do it.
What made you decide to get into computer science?
I first broke into computer science when I participated in (Emory University’s) Kode With Klossy Web Development bootcamp. Before then, I didn’t think CS was ever possible for me - simply put, I thought I wasn’t “smart enough” to ever code. After the bootcamp, I realized that it’s not as intimidating or impossible as I thought, and I really enjoyed building technical skills and solving logical problems. After completing 2 semesters as a Public Policy major at GT, I switched my major to CS because I found the tech field an exciting new opportunity for me.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about improving the gender, racial, and ethnic disparities in tech - I know there are tons of Latinas who had the same sentiments about not being smart enough for CS, and I hope to be a role model and encourage Black, Latin, and Native American (BLNA) women interested in CS to pursue a career in the field. Because technology is inherently biased due to the people that make it, more representation in tech is imperative to create equitable technology and empower under/misrepresented communities.
Can you explain your research on improving inequities in healthcare with tech?
Thanks to the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation and the National Center for Women & Information Technology, I was accepted as a fellow in the Helen Fellows Program in 2022. This fellowship would give me the opportunity to participate in research with a faculty research mentor at Georgia Tech, something I had never done before!
I was matched to the Wellness Technology Lab under Dr. Andrea Grimes Parker, where we focused on examining and designing technology to improve inequities in healthcare spaces. I had the opportunity to explore how and why Latinx communities distrust vaccines, specifically the COVID vaccine, and the interventions designed and directed at these communities. I was given the opportunity to return as a Helen Fellow this year in Dr. Judith Uchidiuno’s Play & Learn Lab, where we are designing educational Artificial Intelligence games for middle school students in Georgia. We work with the BridgeUP STEM Scholars, an incredible cohort of young girls in the Atlanta area, to create new ideas, design, and develop new games to encourage students in Georgia to learn about and pursue Artificial Intelligence.
What organizations have you found community in?
I am a part of the HumaniTech VIP and act as a designer for the PINFO team. We are focused on creating a nonverbal application for non-English speaking patients to understand and manage their medication correctly and safely. I have been able to design the application to make it reflect the purpose of the VIP, which is to create user-centered technology. I am also a member of SHPE, and I have been active in the Women’s Resource Center throughout my undergrad. I am really proud of being part of the first ever cohort of RISE, a first-year leadership organization focused on promoting gender equity on campus. We realized an initiative called Red Goes Green focused on sustainable menstruation and menstrual justice, and my team was able to win almost $5,000 in funding from the Georgia Tech Student Foundation. I served as a Student Advisor for RISE and was able to mentor the next cohort of amazing students, some of whom I am still friends with to this day! I am also a part of ColorStack and Rewriting the Code, organizations aimed at supporting underrepresented students in computing - these organizations have really helped me find community and a sense of belonging within tech.
What advice would you give minorities pursuing CS?
I would say the biggest piece of advice I would give students, especially minorities, pursuing computer science is to find community. Find a place on campus where you feel excited to participate, where you easily make friends, and where you find yourself at peace. Look at organizations focused on serving underrepresented communities (shoutout to ColorStack and RTC!) - it helps a TON knowing other students from your background exist within the field, even if you feel like the only one of you in a room, and it helps you discover new opportunities. I would also say to join a club focused on CS where you can develop technical skills while making connections; it’ll help you find what you want (or don’t want) to do within the field and give you a boost in your resume through projects (especially if you don’t have previous CS experience). Lastly, take an hour of the day to take care of yourself with intention and purpose. Whether it’s tidying your room to give you peace of mind, cooking a healthy meal, going to the gym, or just reading or painting, give yourself the space and time to unwind and not overwhelm yourself with the stress of school or job searching. As much as it feels like a waste of time, it is not - you are still being productive because you deserve to take care of yourself.
What are your future plans?
I have no fixed plans about my future because I have a lot of different interests, but for now I am really excited to pursue a career in Product Management and get my masters in computer science. I hope to also become more involved in different communities focused on minorities in tech and mentor young BLNA women to help them through their journeys in CS. I also hope I excel in the field enough to support my family and give back to my parents for everything they have done for me.
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The College of Computing is proud to celebrate Black History Month this February and honor those who pave the way for equality within our community. pic.twitter.com/Rn5BRskogI
— Georgia Tech Computing (@gtcomputing) February 1, 2024