Selome Zerai – STEM Super Youth Advocate: Skagit Valley
As a child of immigrant parents, the importance of education was constantly emphasized as I was growing up. In my parent’s mind, I was either going to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer – the three acceptable jobs for every child of an
immigrant. But in the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer. I wasn’t quite sure what engineering was, but I assumed that the engineering field was for men and not for me.
I was introduced to computer science when my school purchased a dozen Lego Mindstorms kits and my seventh-grade class was testing out a robotics unit in our science curriculum. I never considered a career in technology until we were programming our robots. Although we weren’t typing actual code, it was the first time I picture myself pursuing what I was learning as a career.
I continued robotics during my first two years of high school, and it was the one class I was excited for. It was during my freshmen year when I realized that as much as I loved building the robots, I enjoyed programming them a lot more. My high school didn’t offer a computer science course at the time, so I had to find other places to learn how to code.
During my sophomore year I discovered Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that works to increase women in computer science. I participated in their summer immersion program – a free eight-week course hosted at Adobe Seattle. I had the opportunity to learn four different programming languages and bond with other girls who were passionate about computer science as well. It was an amazing experience because even though I was working on challenging projects every day, I was having a lot of fun learning with my peers. After this program, I took every opportunity to learn more about computer science.
I am currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science at Western Washington University with a minor in User Experience Design. I am the president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) student chapter at my school, and I help teach computer programming to 6-8th grade students on campus.
I believe that science education should not be determined by your zip code. The world needs more scientists and more engineers with diverse backgrounds to help develop our future, but that’s only possible if everyone has the opportunity and access to STEM from a young age. As I reflect back onto my path into computer science, I know I would not be in this field if it wasn’t for the science curriculum and opportunities I had during middle school and high school–that is why I am a STEM Super Youth Advocate.