Computer Science Student Aims to Break Bamboo Ceiling for Asian Americans
Just like the Chinese laundry stereotype persists so are many Filipinos who continue to be typeset as nurses or physician assistants. Often grouped as part of the model minority, Filipinos and other Asian Americans are not as well represented in engineering and science as people might think. Dagny Parayao, a second year computer science major at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, is determined to change the narrative.
An aspiring software engineer, the California native grew up in the city of Orange and knew first hand that early access to higher education is essential to future successes. At high school, she and other Filipino students lacked mentorship and resources to break into fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Fortunately for Parayao, she benefited from her supportive parents and an older brother who had already gone through the American college application system.
Parayao taught herself basic HTML coding in middle school, creating webpages initially as a way to express her creativity. The experience showed her the power of coding, but it wasn’t until her software engineer father encouraged her to take a C++ programming class at her local community college did she contemplate pursuing software engineering as a career.
“It was really challenging, but when you solve a really hard problem for the first time, you get such a sense of pride and happiness that you want to keep doing more,” recalled Parayao of the programming class. “I realized I could take more of these classes throughout high school so why not just get an associate degree?”
With a high school diploma and an associate degree in computer science, Parayao said she decided to attend UCLA because of the school’s culture and collaborative spirit. However, she never forgot that for many from her community, the road to college was not as smooth. And it certainly wasn’t easy for her parents, who both immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines. Her father had wanted to attend UCLA as a transfer student but didn’t know anything about the process until it was too late for him to apply. The frustrating experiences of her father and her peers from high school drove Parayao to take action.
She joined UCLA’s Filipino-affinity organization Samahang Pilipino in her freshman year and volunteered as a tutor for its high school and community college access project, Advancing Community Empowerment (SPACE). She continues to visit LA’s Historic Filipinotown weekly to tutor high school students in a variety of subjects.
Through SPACE, Parayao not only helped aspiring high schoolers and transfer students get ready for college, the student-run organization also helped her build confidence and overcome her imposter syndrome through its Pilipino Leadership Internship Program.