Connecting Computer Science to Activism
Inspired by his own experiences as a Syrian refugee, Ahmed Haj Ahmed ’26 combines his academic interests with his drive to help other refugees.
As a refugee from Syria, Ahmed Haj Ahmed’s journey to Haverford was dramatically different from his classmates. Forced to flee from his northwest Syrian home, the computer science major now leverages his experiences and technical skills to assist those coming from similar backgrounds. From his involvement with Syrian youth to his participation in multiple award-winning hackathon teams, Haj Ahmed is making an impact on and off campus.
Haj Ahmed and his family were forced to leave Jisr Al-Shughur in Idlib, Syria, after concentrated aerial bombardments launched by Bashar al-Assad’s regime decimated the northwest city. Higher education was far from Haj Ahmed’s mind while living in a refugee camp in Turkey, where he worked to support his family. He reached a turning point, however, when he was connected to the Syrian Youth Empowerment Initiative (SYE), an organization that offers pathways to education for people impacted by conflict in Syria and Iraq.
Supported by FYE’s mentorship and financial assistance, Haj Ahmed was able to apply and make arrangements to attend Haverford. But after arriving at Haverford and joining the campus community, he found that his thoughts still lay with the people of Syria. Thus, he was inspired by a commitment to give to others what SYE had given to him: an opportunity.
“Now that I am at Haverford, I think it is time to give back,” he says. “So I started helping and mentoring fellow Syrian students to navigate the process of applying to colleges and scholarships in the U.S. This journey with SYE has not only transformed my own trajectory but has inspired a commitment to empower others facing similar challenges.”
At Haverford, Haj Ahmed quickly dove into everything computer science-related the College has to offer, an interest born from his unique pre-college circumstances, too.
“My journey in computer science began with a curiosity about how technology could be harnessed to solve real-world problems. This curiosity led me to choose computer science as my major and has driven my academic and personal pursuits ever since,” he says. “As a refugee, my computer gave me a connection to the world beyond the walls of my new, foreign homes. It allowed me to dream big again, to feel hope for the future, and offered me escape from the ordeals and worries of daily life. After losing too much, tangibly and emotionally, it was simpler to create a home in myself. This newfound sense of empowerment through technology fueled my passion for computer science.”
As a teaching assistant for introductory computer science, a software developer in Lutnick Library’s Digital Scholarship office, and a board member for HaverCode, Haverford’s computer science club, Haj Ahmed strives to not only make his field more accessible to everyone but also to push the boundaries of how it can advance social justice and refugee assistance initiatives. Some of his most active and prominent involvement has come in the form of hackathons.
“Hackathons serve as dynamic platforms where students with diverse backgrounds from all around the world come to collaboratively craft innovative solutions through coding and creative problem-solving,” Haj Ahmed explains.
Haj Ahmed, alongside fellow students Trinity Kleckner ’24 and Kai Britt ’26, developed LightHouse as their project for Drexel University’s Philly Codefest last March. The app was designed with refugees in mind, connecting them with essential resources while helping them prepare for long-term goals and eventual integration into the United States. LightHouse, which was deeply rooted in Haj Ahmed’s background as a refugee, won the award for Best Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Hack at the event, highlighting the continued need to provide resources to refugees.
This fall, Haj Ahmed attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s HackMIT, along with three fellow computer science students from across the country. Working with Adviti Mishra (University of Michigan ’25), Chris Lawler (University of Rhode Island ’25), and Tim Hourihan (University of Rhode Island ’24), the team developed MediSum. MediSum is designed to address structural racism within the United States healthcare and hospital system by providing users with alternatives and easy access to reviews. By helping patients make informed decisions about which healthcare providers will be best for them, the project seeks to combat treatment disparities for minority communities.
Haj Ahmed expresses gratitude to the entire Haverford computer science community for providing him a space to flourish as a computer scientist and an activist while also connecting him to like-minded peers. He also thanks hackathon teammate Kleckner in particular for her role as a primary mentor and supporter.
“Trinity has played a significant role in guiding and encouraging me,” he said.
Looking ahead, Haj Ahmed plans to continue participating in hackathons and programming that align with his primary interest: using his technical computer science skills on behalf of refugees and marginalized communities.
“I am driven by a vision to build projects that transform the lives of refugees and individuals in conflict zones, and to work on algorithms that extend beyond mere functionality,” he says. “Specifically, I want to contribute to algorithms that play a crucial role in achieving accountability, justice, and peace. I believe technology can be a powerful force in creating systems that promote transparency, accountability, and fairness, ultimately fostering a more just and peaceful world.”