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Award-winning Student Aims to Harness Technology to Help Others

Chineye Emeghara
Chineye Emeghara received the Windows Insider Women in Computing Award. Photo credit: Microsoft.

Before she was winning awards at The University of Texas at Austin, computer science sophomore Chineye Emeghara was teaching herself to code in high school with resources she discovered online. Later, on a trip to Nigeria, where her mother lived before immigrating to the U.S., she realized that she could apply her interest in technology to improve the lives of others.

“Nigeria is a great place and I love it, but in parts of the country, there is a lack of access to certain technologies that can be really helpful,” Emeghara said. “Even something simple to heat water can change lives. I realized that I want to make a change there.”

She decided to apply to UT Austin, knowing it had a top computer science program.

“Ideally, I would like to have a foundation or a company that creates technology to increase the quality of life for people in developing countries and to narrow that socioeconomic and technological gap,” Emeghara said. “That’s my end goal.”

Emeghara was one of ten women selected in 2018 for the inaugural Windows Insider Women in Computing Award. As part of the award, Microsoft sponsored awardees’ attendance at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. And the community of ten women has stayed in touch. They have a weeklong trip to Microsoft headquarters scheduled for the summer, where many of them, including Emeghara, will also be interning.

It has already been very rewarding, but Emeghara almost didn’t apply.

“In the description it said they only chose ten people,” Emeghara said. “So I thought, ‘Why would I even try for that?’ But the day before it was due, I figured the worst thing that could happen was that I didn’t get it.”

She didn’t expect anything to come of her application, so she was surprised when she found herself added to a Microsoft Women in Computing group chat.

“I opened it and I was like, ‘Why am I added to this group chat? It doesn’t make any sense,’” Emeghara said. “So, I checked my email. And then I started sobbing. It was shock, excitement, disbelief. I was just overall really grateful.”

In just the year and a half that she’s been at UT Austin, Emeghara has already participated in a Google CodeU fellowship, a Chevron internship and hackathons including HackMIT. In the Association of Black Computer Scientists, she serves as the Outreach Officer, working to inform local middle and high school students about opportunities in tech. And she’s a part of the Digital Arts and Media Bridging Disciplines Program and in the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, as a TIP Scholar.

“UT lets me do not just CS [computer science] but also to explore a more creative side,” Emeghara said. “College is difficult for anyone, I think, regardless of major. But the professors here have been incredible. My CS professors are some of my favorite people.”

Her “number one inspiration,” though, is her mom.

“She’s always been such a hard worker,” Emeghara said. “She came here for us to live our best lives. To go get an education, go have our best jobs, do whatever we want. So I think getting the Microsoft award, the aspect I’m most proud of was hearing from my mom how happy she was.”

Seeing her decision to apply to the Women in Computing Award pay off, Emeghara has some advice for students thinking about similar long-shot opportunities, including in computing.

“I think the biggest thing is to just go for it,” Emeghara said. “Seek out your resources. Also just create that space for yourself. I think the best advice is to go out and create your own platform. Because then people will come to you. If you don’t see a space, create it for yourself.”

Read the Microsoft profile of Cheneye: Guts, Growth, and Grit: How to Succeed in Computer Science