A New Mexico Highlands University computer science faculty member will be an ambassador for increasing the number of Latina women in technology.
TECHNOLOchicas, an initiative of the National Center for Women and Information Technology, chose Jessica Johnsen for the honor.
“I recommend exploring careers in science and technology to other Latinas because we are so underrepresented, which is very unfortunate as these are such fun, challenging, and exciting career paths,” Johnsen said. “We need to claim our space in the tech world, and do our part to create technology for the betterment of our own communities and the world.”
Johnsen is a Las Vegas native whose grandmother was from Oaxaca, Mexico.
“I’m very proud of my Mexican heritage. I come from a long line of strong, encouraging women, which helped me overcome my hesitation to pursue computer science,” Johnsen said.
Johnsen, who earned her master’s degree in computer science from Highlands with a 3.9 GPA, will be be reaching out to Las Vegas area high school students.
“I am driven to mentor young women in technology and want to be a relatable role model. I will encourage these students to not be afraid of the so-called hard courses like math and computer programming,” Johnsen said.
Johnsen said good mentoring was especially important to her at Highlands because her undergraduate education was in a different discipline.
“Initially, I lacked the confidence to believe I could be successful in technology. Having a supportive mentor like computer science professor and department head Dr. Gil Gallegos made a world of difference to me,” Johnsen said.
Johnsen joined the Highlands faculty in 2014. She teaches courses such as Living With Computers, Introduction to Computer Science, and Python Programming.
“I absolutely love teaching computer science. Introductory courses give me the chance to impact students early in their education,” Johnsen said.
She is active in organizations such as the National Center for Women and Information Technology, Hispanics in Computing, the Computing Research Association for Women, and the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women.
Johnsen recently participated in the annual Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference in Atlanta, thanks to a faculty scholarship.
“Ongoing professional development is vital for this ever-changing field of technology,” Johnsen said.