Student of Vision Abie Award
Pelagia Majoni is an outstanding undergraduate student of Computer Science at Haverford College in Pennsylvania who is using her skillset as an engineer to address the agricultural and infrastructure challenges in her home country of Zimbabwe.
Pelagia grew up in a remote unelectrified region of Zimbabwe. She was aware of challenges within her community from an early age, and found herself frequently proposing ideas to her mother on how they might be solved.
Today, Pelagia has founded and led multiple technology projects with the aim to “make a phenomenal impact on girls in Zimbabwe”. Her work combines leading programming workshops that promote access to STEM education, and simultaneously build the technology and workforce skillsets Zimbabwe needs to address its energy access and food supply challenges.
Her work today is implementing those early ideas – and is bringing together the power of education and technology to make a lasting positive impact on her community.
In 2018, Pelagia had the opportunity to visit Kapoto primary and secondary schools in rural Zimbabwe. During her stay, she was troubled by the one small meal a day the students ate. This was due to a food shortage stemming from the country’s low rainfall. Pelagia soon learned that more than 60% of the country’s population is food-insecure. Pelagia saw this as an opportunity to use technology and programming to solve a problem, but at the time did not know how to code or even own a computer.
Since then, her knowledge of programming and computer science has grown, and she has maintained her interest in combining agriculture and technology to address this critical issue.
Pelagia is now working on building a lab called the Golden Gate project, which empowers both high school girls and boys in Zimbabwe with opportunities to build technologies that will increase agricultural yields.
As part of this lab, Pelagia teaches an Introduction to Programming course at the US Embassy in Zimbabwe each summer. This course is taught alongside an agricultural animal rearing project, with the goal of challenging students to brainstorm on how they can use their newly-acquired technical skills to automate and to make agricultural processes more efficient.
Her student enrollment includes more than 40% girls – and after the two-week course concludes, Pelagia maintains personal connections with those students to encourage them to further pursue STEM careers.
As Pelagia has also noted, a large portion of the population in Zimbabwe lacks access to proper household lighting sources. To solve this problem, she invented an environmentally friendly battery using locally available decaying potatoes from the market dumpsite. Potatoes produce high current and voltage, and when connected in series can be used as cheap and environmentally friendly batteries.
She presented her battery invention at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in 2017, for which she was presented the 2nd Grand Electrical Engineering category award and a scholarship to pursue her college education in the US. Pelagia became the first African woman to have an asteroid named after her by MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
— The 2020 Abie Award Selection Committee commended Pelagia’s vision and execution of the Golden Gate project, including:
— Aiming to boost crop yields in Zimbabwe by 5% through the use of new technologies
— Receiving the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship Fellowship under the University of Chicago for this work
— Building a python and PSQL program to visualize sample crop data to boost farm productivity
— Empowering a group of students to learn the technical skills needed to tackle critical community issues by providing reliable access to programming coursework, computers, and internet in a region where such resources are scarce
Pelagia in 2020
Pelagia aims to scale up her impact through the Student of Vision Abie Award. After GHC, she hopes to use her new network to start a computer innovation space in Zimbabwe focused on addressing community challenges. Pelagia envisions an accessible, well-equipped lab in Harare, where she hopes to continue inspiring girls to pursue STEM.
Pelagia is an incoming Data Science Intern at Warner Bros. Entertainment, incoming Pinterest Engage Scholar, and former Windows Insider GHC 2019 Scholar, Rewriting the Code Fellow, Citi Early ID Black Heritage Leadership Program Apprentice, and Code 2040 Finalist. Pelagia will receive her BSc in Computer Science with a minor in Africana Studies from Haverford College in 2022.
Thank you to Discover Financial Services, Sponsor of the 2020 Student of Vision Abie Award.