Pelagia Majoni ’22 Wins 2020 Student of Vision Abie Award
The prize honors young women dedicated to creating a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build.
Last year Pelagia Majoni ’22 attended the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, and was inspired by the women she met there, in particular the winner of last year’s Student of Vision Abie Award—Jhillika Kumar, who makes tech accessible for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This fall, Majoni, a computer science major and Africana studies minor, will be returning to the conference—albeit virtually, as the GHC has moved their event online due to COVID-19—not just as an attendee, but as this year’s winner of the Student of Vision Abie Award.
Despite initially being plagued by “impostor syndrome,” Majoni applied for the award, which honors young women dedicated to creating a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build, at the urging of her mother and her professor, Jeffrey Tecosky-Feldman.
“My mom and my math professor believed in me and the work I have done so far to support women in tech,” she said. “Four months later, GHC contacted me and told me I was the 2020 Student of Vision awardee. I was in disbelief. I screamed, cried, and smiled. I felt reassured that my efforts towards empowering women and Africans to solve challenges in our communities were being recognized as effective.”
Majoni grew up in a remote part of Zimbabwe and much of her drive to innovate in tech is driven by a desire to improve things in that country. Over last winter break, she returned to Zimbabwe to teach an introductory programming class to 15 high school students. Inspired by them, she returned to campus and led a team to victory at a University of Pennsylvania hackathon with a web application for her students to access free resources to independently learn programming. This summer, thanks to support from Zimbabwe Science and Haverford’s Koshland Natural Sciences Center and Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, she is continuing engineering work on that app, which will make programming textbooks and other learning resources available for students in Zimbabwe.
“I presented at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, [and] inspired by my community, I became the first Zimbabwean woman to win a 2nd grand category award and have an asteroid named after her by MIT and NASA because of my innovative science project [using potatoes to solve Zimbabwe’s electricity problems],” said Majoni.
The Student of Vision Abie Award includes a cash prize of $15,000, as well as attendance fees and speaking opportunities during this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration. Majoni has won many other prizes including one of 10 recent Palantir Women in Technology Scholarships and a Microsoft Women in Computing Scholarship that enabled her attendance at last year’s GHC. She is a 2020 Pinterest Engage Scholar and a fellow of Rewriting the Code, a national nonprofit dedicated to empowering a community of college women in tech.
This summer, in addition to building her educational app, she is working as a data science intern at Warner Bros. Entertainment, an opportunity she secured through last year’s conference.
“I believe attending GHC will change my life,” said Majoni, “and hopefully the lives of many other women in technology.”