Nia Asemota, a junior at NYU, was going to go into the medical field. “I never really thought that computer science was a path for me. So growing up, I was always heavily invested in becoming a doctor or surgeon or anything in the medical space.” But her perception began to change when she joined her high school robotics team during her freshman year. “I didn’t really know what to do. I was one of five girls on the team, out of 36 members. The first two years, I was just trying to find my footing.” She enjoyed her time there but wanted to contribute more. So, in her junior year, she taught herself to code using YouTube videos, eventually becoming a lead in the team’s programming, mechanical, and electrical departments.
When it came time for college though, Nia tried branching out by studying chemical and biological engineering. “And I immediately recognized that wasn’t the place for me,” she admits. “The more real it got to becoming a doctor, the closer it got to medical school, the less I wanted to do it because I had other interests.” Eventually, though, she would find herself participating in an event hosted by Google, where she met an employee who was an NYU grad. “He was like, ‘Yeah I had the family influence to become a doctor, I was a bio major, junior year I switched my major, became a computer science major and got my masters in it.’” Hearing about his journey made her feel that it was possible for her too, “Yeah, it’s doable. He did it. Has the same interest. I can do it.” Soon after this, Nia dropped chemical engineering and picked up computer science as a minor, returning to the subject she had discovered in high school. “For me, it’s perfect, having the computer science and bio mind. I know this mixture of majors and minors is perfect for me.”
Concerning ColorStack, Nia got in on the ground floor. “So I knew Jehron through a friend of a friend. Before ColorStack started, he reached out to me, he was like, ‘I’m starting this, I know you go to NYU, are you interested in becoming a chapter lead?’” She would end up creating and leading the NYU chapter of ColorStack. “So, at my school, in the computer science department, the mixture of people is very homogeneous. For example, in my class today I was the only student of color, so that’s not something out of the ordinary at school. So with ColorStack, it gave me that community, people who understand me, not only academically, but outside of school too.” She continues, “For me, ColorStack gave me an opportunity to talk to students that are CS majors or CS minors or interested in tech, but that’s not the only thing that they want to talk about. So I really enjoy the different channels that we have. I’m active in the #women chat, the #curls chat, the food chat. It’s really cool to have people that I can talk to about anything under the sun and it doesn’t have to be always related to our major. ColorStack is a huge support system for me.”
One of Nia’s core values is “paying it forward.” “I think it’s really important and impactful to advise these underrepresented communities to explore STEM fields. But it’s even more powerful when you’re able to be the example they need,” Nia asserts. “Women, specifically women of color, don’t have the opportunity to see themselves as role models. And I think it’s really important to see yourself in others, be inspired by the work they’re doing, and feel the support that you can do the same.” This sense of paying it forward has led Nia to work as a teaching assistant for both City College of NY and NYU as a way to support students of color entering computer science. Moreover, Nia volunteers for Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit that provides computer science education for young Black women. However, perhaps the work closest to her heart currently is a special project she’s been working on. “Basically, I’ve created a coloring book for Black Girls CODE, with the goal to empower young women of color with illustrations where they can see themself reflected, where they color their world that they can see as they see it, and showcase the game changers that they are.” The coloring book includes images of girls working on robotics and computer science projects, as well as images of STEM pioneers, such as Mae C. Jemison, Ayanna Howard, and Katherine Johnson. “I have their image, their description, for example, first black woman in space, and just different quotes that they have to uplift the girls to leave that lasting impression and just understand that ‘they did it, I can do it,’ and they see themselves reflected in the book.”