For Audrey Pe ’24, two distinct things sparked her love for computer science — a snake and a maze. In her middle school computer class, she was given an assignment to navigate a snake through a maze using blocks that represented lines of code. From that day on, Pe had not only realized that code is the basis of all websites and apps, but she also realized that she had wanted to better understand the technology that impacted her generation so deeply.
This inspired Pe to learn more about computer science throughout high school via online tutorials on Codecademy and Khan Academy. Despite fostering this love and passion for computer science, Pe realized that she had little to no support when it came to pursuing a career in CS.
As an international student from the Philippines, she was often told by peers that “tech wasn’t a common field for girls”, and remembers a teacher telling her that she “couldn’t imagine [Pe] in the tech industry.” This enabled Pe to start WiTech at 15 years old — a nonprofit organization that aims to educate, inspire and empower women to break gender barriers and use tech to make a difference in society.
“Starting this nonprofit was something I felt like I had to do because I needed to do something — anything — to help bridge the inequalities in a field that was heralded as ‘the future,’” Pe wrote in an email to The Daily. “I wanted a stake in that future and felt that it was so inherently unjust that because of stereotypes, a lack of resources and a plethora of other factors, girls and youth from low income communities were made to believe that we didn’t have a space in tech.”
While Pe has been actively working on WiTech for the past four years, she has found herself especially busy with projects for the nonprofit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Throughout quarantine, I’ve been conducting talks and workshops around 3-4 times a week,” Pe wrote. “Prior to the pandemic, my schedule consisted of speaking engagements locally and internationally. Because of the shift to working from home, I now do more international than local talks with mostly U.S.-based organizations. Usually, my presentations center around how I founded a nonprofit at 15 and why anyone — regardless of their age — can make a difference in their community.”
When Pe is not doing workshops, she can be seen working on WiTech’s chapter expansion programs. She works with a team of 11 total chapter heads from around the world that are carrying out their own projects to promote gender equality and tech accessibility in their own communities. Pe touched on the different works for WiTech she’s been doing within her own community in the Philippines.
“Due to [COVID-19], the shift to online learning has left millions of Filipino students unable to attend school because of the lack of tech resources,” Pe wrote. “WiTech’s founding chapter in Manila is currently working on a fundraiser in partnership with the Unang Hakbang Foundation in order to raise funds for low income youth to obtain the necessary tech for online education.”
For the past year, Pe has devoted most of her time to WiTech — as a member of the class of 2019, Pe decided to take a gap year in order to focus on expanding WiTech worldwide. She spent this time at meetings, tech events and talks that she conducted in the Philippines, Thailand and Portugal. When the virus hit the Philippines, all of Pe’s speaking engagements got either canceled or moved online, and all of WiTech’s in-person events were cancelled for the year. She describes moments like these as a “letdown,” as she had been looking forward to speaking at multiple women’s month celebrations and attending these different events planned.
Despite these let-downs, Pe described the main way in which she is personally able to cope and move past moments like these — she does so by throwing herself into the work that needs to be done for WiTech. Due to the copious amounts of work that come with managing a nonprofit, Pe said she and her team are kept busy restructuring Witech and recruiting new members for the organization. Pe said she is able to keep this work momentum up due to the amount of passion she has for Witech.
“Remembering that the work we do at WiTech — advocating for tech accessibility — continues to be relevant in the context of the shift to online education [and] motivates me to keep going,” Pe wrote. “There is so much that is unknown about the future, so what I try to focus on is the fact that my team and I are helping create tangible solutions to help those in our community. I also feel this immense privilege that comes with being able to have stable WiFi and a laptop at home; it’s like I can’t not help contribute to a solution for the digital divide because so many of the opportunities I’ve had growing up were because of tech.”
While Pe has her own methods for being productive during quarantine, she wrote that not everyone needs to do the most during this time — she encourages students to do acts of good for their own community.
“Being able to read this article, scroll on social media, watch a YouTube video, etc. are all privileges that not everyone in the world gets to have — use that privilege wisely,” Pe wrote. “I’m not saying that you need to write a bestselling novel or launch a global startup. Instead, focus on bettering yourself and contributing to your community. This doesn’t need to be through huge efforts, but can be done via taking an online course that interests you or starting that passion project you’ve been putting off. The self-improvement aspect can also include being intentional about how you spend your time. Make an effort to connect with friends and family by using platforms like social media to check in on those you care about. You don’t need to spark a huge change in the world, but instead focus on improving your little corner of it.”
Contact Justine Ha at justinemha ‘at’ gmail.com.