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Putting computer science to work curbing poverty

September 12, 2019
student laughs during class in a lecture hallGrowing up in Uruguay Fernanda Sesto ’23 was the only female student in her computer science-focused high school. At Rochester, she plans to continue using technology to tackle issues of social inequality. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Like many ambitious young adults, Fernanda Sesto ’23 arrived at college with her LinkedIn page already well established. On it, she wrote, “I understand the power of technology, so I’m using it to pursue social equality.”

Sesto, a native of Uruguay and a first-year computer science major at the University of Rochester, volunteered in a Latin American non-profit organization called TECHO, helping residents of poor neighborhoods carry out infrastructure projects involving streets, parks, houses, and community centers.

She also created Computer Scientists in Action, a non-profit organization focused on reducing the digital gap by teaching computer science to poor children.

And she started a project in her hometown of El Pinar, a seaside resort, to teach leadership in primary schools.

students form the numbers 23

Meet the Class of 2023

They come from 44 states and 65 countries. Twenty percent are the first in their family to attend college. Welcome to Rochester, Class of 2023.

Sesto didn’t grow up poor herself. Her mother is a secondary school teacher, her father works as a government administrator, and her older brother attends college in Uruguay.

But after her parents divorced when Sesto was 11, her father moved to another city, into a poor neighborhood.

“That was the first time I saw people living in poverty, and it had a deep impact on me,” she says. “Nobody should live like that, and not have the basic amenities. That’s why I became involved in different activities helping vulnerable communities do development projects.”

Sesto heard about the University of Rochester from Daniel Caje ’22, a molecular genetics major from Paraguay whom she met during a State Department-sponsored summer exchange program called Youth Ambassadors, in 2015. She researched the school online and was so impressed that she applied Early Decision last fall. She even created a video that examines poverty in Latin America as part of her admissions essay. But until she moved in with other international students last month, she had never stepped foot on the campus.

“I love it here,” she says. “I’m not used to diversity, because Uruguay is a very small country. But here at Rochester, I can meet people from very different parts of the world. I’m so excited about that.”

Sesto has joined Forté Campus, a student organization aimed at creating a network of business- and leadership-driven women. Back home in El Pinar, she had her own trail to blaze.

For three years, she was the only female student in her high school, which specialized in computer science.

“It was very challenging at first, and something I had to get used to,” she says. “But I learned a lot and consider myself to be very empowered.”

She hopes to find time for other activities, such as dance, sports, and not surprisingly, community service.

“I want to explore all that college has to offer, and really make a difference,” she says.

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