It’s not often that people choose a major without knowing anything about the subject, but in the 10th grade, that’s just what Bukola Somide did. A friend at the time, who was senior, told Somide about computer science, and while she had zero knowledge of the study area, she had a love for science and figured that computers would be the way of the future.
Today, Somide regards the decision as fate.
She attended the University of Maryland in College Park and was chosen for the Bridge Program there, which supported minority students looking to study computer, math or physical sciences in their transition from high school to college.
During the program, Somide took her first programming course. She was blown away by how much she enjoyed it. In spite of the loads of laborious assignments, the difficulty was no match for the gratitude and pride Somide experienced when she programmed projects from scratch.
Upon graduation, Somide began working for corporate America, but 10 years into it, she felt unfulfilled.
“I was not content, and I wanted to give back to the community in a way that truly resonated with me and also brought me joy,” said Somide.
Considering that she was the only Black woman- and oftentimes the only Black person- participating on software development teams that she joined, Somide wanted to do something that would inspire minority youth to take up computer science.
Through internal research that Somide conducted, she discovered a few reasons for the shortage of minority youth pursuing computer science.
One, many assume that the subject is boring. Two, they believe they don’t have the intelligence and capabilities to pursue computer science.
Lastly, it’s rare for minority youth to find mentors who look like them, which Somide experienced firsthand.
These findings inspired Somide to create Somi the Computer Scientist (Somi), an African-American science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) doll that speaks to youth about computer science. The doll is a part of Somide’s larger company, Innovant Technologies LLC, which also offers storybooks featuring Somi’s coding journey and other computer science activity books.
Somi is the first of her kind. She sports natural, curly hair and wears a T-shirt that says, “Princesses can code.” Somi speaks over 220 words embedded in 12 different phrases that touch on computer science concepts, and Somide, herself, voiced the doll.
“When I made these recordings, the intent was to make it fun and engaging,” said Somide. “Kids will want to listen to it when it’s fun, but they are also getting the true meaning. While they’re playing with the doll, they are passively learning, and that’s the whole benefit of it.”
Aside from computer science topics like algorithms and conditionals, Somi teaches youth about cyberbullying. She raises awareness about the importance of being a responsible digital citizen when using technology.
When customers receive their Somi dolls, Somide wants them to be inspired and to envision themselves as computer scientists or in other STEM careers.
“I want to shatter this mental glass ceiling that sometimes limits us,” said Somide. “When we don’t see something that we can become, we may not believe that we can become it.”
Megan Sayles is an AFRO Newspapers business reporter and Report for America Corps member.