Creating a STEM culture on campus in Uganda

Posted by Muhammad (Auwal) Samu, Developer Communities Regional Lead, Sub-Saharan Africa

Halimah Bukirwa says she felt like she knew nothing about computers or coding when she started university but threw herself into learning about STEM as much as possible.

“I committed to being the best at it, since I was given this awesome opportunity to actually study it.” Originally thinking she’d pursue a career in the field of aviation, Halimah joined several developer communities to learn more about engineering. That’s when she found the Google Developer Student Club (GDSC) at her university.

Creating a culture of participation on campus

She joined the local GDSC chapter as a core team member first, helping out with general logistics and planning, then the next year she applied to become the chapter Lead. Now, with all her community learnings, this fourth-year software engineering student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, sees herself as a community leader and has her sights set on helping other software developers grow.

Learnings and proud moments for the community

The campus club achieved many milestones during Halimah’s tenure as the GDSC Lead. The chapter hosted over 40 events and reached over two thousand developers at her university. She also helped her chapter find inspiration to submit 11 projects to the annual GDSC Solution Challenge. These efforts were the result of intentionally creating a culture of support and helping other students find their footing as developers.

“When we were starting GDSC, our objective was to help students learn, connect, and grow into developers, and identify problems in our community and address them using technology. GDSC has given students hands-on skills to apply what they study and create solutions for the problems in their communities.”


Creating technical solutions for local problems

The GDSC Makarere chapter submitted 11 projects to the annual GSDC Solution Challenge to come up with technical ways to solve community challenges, and one notable team from the club, MpaMpe, proudly finished in the Top 50 global projects with its crowdfunding hybrid app intended to reduce the financial and digital divide via crowdsourcing and donations.

Halimah also answered the call to change the world through coding by also participating in the global GDSC Solution Challenge. “I discovered that technology is a tool we can use to drive change and transformation–to address the problems in our communities and create solutions.”

Noting that Uganda has small women-owned enterprises that face high charges on bulk transactions. She and her team built a payment solutions app called Alfasente to help businesses digitize their payments at a lower cost. The project used Firebase to build the application backend and hosted it on the Google Cloud Platform. The team submitted to the Solution Challenge with the goal of addressing the UN Sustainable Goal #8, Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Improving local farming conditions using Google Cloud Platform

Beyond these Google tools and technologies, exposure to GDSC (along with her engineering curriculum) has allowed Halimah to quickly learn new technologies and concepts.

“Organizing these events has been so fulfilling because I have witnessed so many students' lives transform. My university has received recognition from other entities, and I have been consulted by other people and organizations on tech-related issues.”

No matter the tool or its application she shares that the GDSC program can help speed up the learning process. “We wanted to make sure that students find their place in the tech ecosystem, learn as much as they can, and connect and grow with other people,” she says. “We have seen that come to life. So many students are interested that now we need more room for students.”

Halimah says she’s used the Google Cloud Platform for several university projects and internship work and is keen on using technology to address issues affecting the cultivation of a root vegetable called cassava that grows in her region.

What’s next for Halimah and the GDSC chapter

Halimah says she is honored to be considered as a potential recipient of the EMEA Generational Google Scholarship program for women studying computer science in Europe, the Middle East or Africa. She’s planning to better learn TensorFlow and is helping friends get started with Flutter projects, learning Flutter from codelabs, tutorials, videos, and documentation.

“I am passionate about AI, ML, Data Science, and Cloud Computing, and I am confident that I can address the problems in the industries that I am passionate about, too. My goal is to graduate, go into a master's program, and possibly do an internship at a technology company.”

Halimah is excited about her career journey and pleased by how much her GDSC club is growing with the new students starting their school term.

Join a Google Developer Student Club near you

Google Developer Student Clubs (GDSC) are community groups for college and university students like Halimah who are interested in Google developer technologies.

With over 1800+ chapters in 112 countries, GDSC aims to empower developers like Halimah to help their communities by building technical solutions. If you’re a student and would like to join a Google Developer Student Club community, look for a chapter near you here, or visit the program page to learn more about starting one in your area.