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‘I fell in love with coding.’ Johnson senior Rosa Figueroa wants to be catalyst for diversity in STEM fields
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Johnson High's Rosa Figueroa - photo by Scott Rogers

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Johnson senior Rosa Figueroa has an appreciation for the importance of hard work and diversity in all segments of the workforce.

The 18-year-old is bound for Columbia University in the fall, where she’ll study computer science to become a software engineer. She told The Times she wants to be a catalyst for change in an industry dominated by men and lacking in ethnic diversity.

“There’s just not as much diversity as I wish there was,” Figueroa said, adding that she’ll be a data scholar at the Ivy League school. 

The graduating senior said her love for computer science, engineering and programming began during a summer program — Girls Who Code — that her brother, a Facebook employee, introduced her to. She said she signed up to explore the industry and because, “I didn’t have anything else to do that summer.”

“I fell in love with coding, so I decided to do software engineering from then and just develop the new up-and-coming products,” she said. “I like the creativity aspect of it and kind of the versatility, because you can create pretty much anything.”

In addition to her hope to begin a shift in diversity in the world of STEM, Figueroa said she wants to help people with disabilities through her work. 

Class of 2021

Read stories of outstanding seniors across Hall County in our Class of 2021 special section. Pick up a copy of the print publication, which lists names of all the graduating seniors, inside the May 8-9 weekend edition of The Times.

“I want … to make technology more inclusive,” she said. “It’s very important to me, and I value how coding and how software engineering — how it has that relationship with inclusivity.”

Figueroa maintained a GPA well above 4.0 while involved in musical theater, drama club, Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society and serving as vice president of Johnson’s student government.

She said she’s always been motivated to do her best by seeing needs in the community around her or at large. 

But, Figueroa added, she’s also been brought up by supportive parents, who have instilled in her the value and importance of giving 110% to everything she tries.

“I’m motivated by all their hard work and efforts for me to have a good life here,” she said. “I want to make them proud and do the best that I can in school.”

Like it did for many others, Figueroa said COVID-19 challenged her in her personal school experience. But, she said, it also challenged her as a leader in student government, who had to try to incorporate experiences for her senior class that were both safe and fun. The last year of high school is special to many, she said, and it was stressful to carry the feeling that she was at least partially responsible for ensuring that was the case for her peers.

“I wanted to visit colleges and have an internship over the summer … and it was a big strain on my mental health going through college applications and having the stress of a heavy academic schedule. … It was just hard being at home and not having that support of my friends all the time,” she said. “And on top of that …it was my responsibility to make sure we could make this year as enjoyable as possible for seniors, who were already having a very rough time.”

She also learned lessons, strengthened friendships and said the pandemic made her realize how strong the Johnson High School community is.

Having lived in Hall her whole life, Figueroa said it’s bittersweet to move on and leave friends and family behind in the fall as she moves to the vastly different environment she’ll experience in New York. 

But, she said, she’s also excited to move on, challenge herself and see what she can accomplish.

“I love my friends, and I love my family, and it’s very painful to have to leave them this upcoming August,” Figueroa said. “But we all have to move on and grow.”

And always community-minded, she noted, she’ll be keeping an eye on her peers to see what great things they accomplish wherever they end up.

“I’m going to miss this school. I cherished it a lot, but I’m excited to see what everyone is going to do in their future,” she said. “I think a lot of people that I know have a lot of potential, and I want to see them grow too.”

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