Code Breaker: Computer Science Student Seeks to Shatter Barriers and Promote Diversity in Tech
At Widener, Desiree Junfijiah ’23 continues to work to see more women, and women of color, follow her into tech fields. She’s on a mission to raise awareness and to support and inspire the next generation.
- College of Arts & Sciences
As a high school student, Desiree Junfijiah ’23 thought she’d one day become a doctor or a lawyer – professions she knew a bit about.
The technology field was a complete mystery to her.
But in her sophomore year of high school, Desiree saw a Microsoft advertisement about girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields.
She was hooked and never looked back.
“It really sparked my interest,” said Desiree. “But even for me it was hard to get started and I didn’t know how big the tech field was.”
In her school, Desiree started a local chapter of Girl Up, a global organization founded by the United Nations Foundation to inspire girls to be leaders and change agents and promote gender equality.
Desiree, now a computer science major at Widener, understood all too well that the field that she was so passionate about still grapples with a lack of diversity and representation – especially when it comes to women, people of color, and, like herself, women of color.
Desiree wants to change all that, and inspire the next generation to enter the tech fields.
At Widener, she’s empowered to continue this important work.
I feel like it’s my job to help someone who comes after me – women and also black people in tech. I think about myself. I didn’t have someone to look to. — Desiree Junfijiah
At Widener, Desiree has found a vehicle to pursue this mission. She serves as president of the Women in Computing club, an organization dedicated to promoting women in computing and to providing a connection and space for fellowship for students in the technology majors.
The club is also in the process of connecting women in computing fields from across Pennsylvania colleges, and has reached out to the Chester schools to start an initiative to raise awareness of the tech fields among girls at the K-12 level.
Desiree’s goal in life is to create and inspire. Using her interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning, she aspires to create technology that can help people in assisted living facilities. “I want to create tech that helps people,” she said.
Desiree is already lending her voice to inspire others.
In 2022, she was asked to join Code.org’s Women’s History Month #IWouldSayCampaign, part of Rewriting the Code, a nonprofit organization that works to support students pursing tech careers. Desiree is part of the latter group’s Black Wings events committee.
Through a social media video, Desiree shared a message of advice to her high school self. But the words were really meant for others.
“There will be times when you’ll be the only young woman in your class,” she told her younger self. “You’ll push yourself to go above and beyond and prove that you belong there and that you’re just as smart as everyone else…. I need you to be patient with us. Be kinder to yourself.”
Desiree didn’t begin her college journey at Widener. She transferred in as a sophomore in 2020 from another area school, attracted to the university’s computer science program and size. Since she arrived at Widener during the pandemic and period of remote learning, she is just now getting accustomed to campus.
But she is already finding her way and gaining experiences. Desiree works in Widener’s Information Technology Services (ITS) department, gaining experience with both hardware and software, including testing classroom technology.