Rediet Asrat said she has always had a keen interest in technology.
As a child in Ethiopia, she was fascinated by her remote-controlled toy car. She wanted to know how the buttons she pushed on the controller were able to send directions to the car. She would break her toys to see how they worked, and her father would bring her articles on science, health, technology and space.
In third grade, she said her interest in the engineering field “skyrocketed” when a friend showed her that she could rotate a DC motor by connecting it to a battery.
But her Ethiopian schools offered no advanced computing courses, limiting her studies to learning how to use Microsoft Word.
When she moved with her family to the United States four years ago, Asrat was prepared to enter her final semester of her senior year at Tucker High School (THS) when she was told she’d have to go back to 10th grade.
Now, as a sophomore in computer science at the University of West Georgia, Asrat doesn’t see it as a setback, but as a blessing.
“It helped me understand and differentiate the two different schooling systems,” Asrat told The Champion. “It gave me a second chance to revisit the science and math classes I had already taken but this time in a more different approach when it came to teaching strategy.”
According to Asrat, Ethiopian schools lacked resources, preventing them from being very hands-on. They also moved at a faster pace than American schools and didn’t offer as many extracurricular activities. Because of this, she was afraid to enter the STEM field.
When she arrived at THS, that all changed, she said.
“What mainly changed was how I was being taught,” she said. “I was very thankful to have had such amazing teachers at Tucker High School. They taught the subjects in a more hands-on, visual and steady pace. Their method of teaching reminded me that the STEM field is actually exciting. Yes, it may be hard at times but that it is worth the challenge.”
After high school, she decided to attend the University of West Georgia (UWG) in Carrollton, and quickly became involved in the Computer Science Women of West Georgia (CS WoW). An informal collective of UWG students and faculty, CS WoW serves to increase interest in computer science among women. Asrat fit in immediately, and was voted unanimously as CS WoW president in her second year.
“It reassured me that any hard work and dedication towards a good cause does not go unnoticed,” Asrat said of her unanimous ascension to president. “Reflecting on my achievement makes me realize that any pure, commitment and hard work put into anything will always have a positive outcome.”
This past year, Asrat and CS WoW teamed with another UWG computing group, Association for Computing Machinery, to attend Hack the Violence—a 4-week social impact tech incubator where college students get a taste of the startup life, and see how their ideas about ways to combat violence may be turned into reality.
The UWG team developed a prototype for an informative assistant application that would help international students learn about job opportunities, visa information and school regulations.
Through UWG, Asrat was also able to obtain a full scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Conference in Orlando, Fla. The conference is the world’s largest gathering of women in computing, designed to highlight the research and career interests of women in computing.
“It was among one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” Asrat said. “I enjoyed the chance to experience new places and meet new people along with an opportunity to speak with representatives and employees form the world’s top Fortune 500 companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft.”
Through her experiences, Asrat said she has learned the importance of women becoming involved in STEM fields.
“At times, men and women perceive and see things differently,” she said. “[That’s] why it’s important having both a man’s and woman’s opinion when it comes to creating well-rounded solutions to problems that the world may be facing.”
Her advice to any woman thinking of entering the STEM field is simple: be persistent.
“Once you have begun your journey through the STEM field it is guaranteed that you will [experience] some type of problem or failure,” she said. “What will define you is not your failure, but instead, your response to failure.”