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Allen School undergrads are blazing new trails as first-generation college students

Frequent readers of the blog may be familiar with our Undergraduate Spotlight, an occasional feature in which we highlight an Allen School student who represents the next generation of innovators and leaders in the field of computing. For our latest feature, we shine the spotlight on a group of students who are among the first in their families to attend college as part of a nationwide celebration of the contributions that first-generation students make to our campus communities.

Meet Allen School undergraduates Shariya Ali, Simplicio DeLeon, and Dilraj Devgun — three trailblazers who are on their way to academic success.

Shariya Ali

Shariya AliShariya Ali is a junior majoring in Computer Science at the Allen School, where she serves as a member of the CSE Student Advisory Council representing the voices of undergraduate and master’s students on issues ranging from diversity and social responsibility to student wellness. Ali arrived at UW by way of the San Francisco Bay area, where she was born after her family immigrated to the United States from Suva in the Fiji Islands. As both a mother and full-time college student, she is determined to make the most of her opportunity at the Allen School and looks forward to mentoring other young women and supporting a more diverse and inclusive technology community.

Allen School: What does being a first-generation student mean to you?

Shariya Ali: Being a first-generation student means that I won’t have to struggle to provide for my family like my mom struggled to provide for me. She had to put in so much work and make so many sacrifices to give me a good life, but for most of my childhood that still meant we lived paycheck to paycheck. My mother has since passed away, and graduating from UW will be the best way I can honor her memory.

Allen School: What advice do you have for future first-gen students?

SA: My advice to future first generation students is to stop listening to other people’s opinions about your life. If you have a dream, go for it. It’s your life, and it’s up to you to make it the life you want. If I had listened to everyone about my chances of being admitted to the Allen School, I would have been too scared to move to Seattle and I wouldn’t be here today. Never let your fears dictate your life, and always believe in yourself!

Allen School: What is your favorite part about being an Allen School student?

SA: My favorite part about being an Allen School student is seeing the surprised faces people make when I tell them my major. People have an image in their minds about what software engineers should look like, and I love being an example of someone outside of that mold. I hope I can become an inspiration to other young women and show them they can be whatever they want to be.

Simplicio DeLeonSimplicio DeLeon

Simplicio DeLeon is a junior majoring in Computer Engineering at the Allen School. Hailing from Harrah, Washington, DeLeon is an alumnus of the Washington State Academic RedShirt (STARS) program, which helps first-generation students and those from low-income and underserved backgrounds to navigate the transition to college-level engineering and computer-science coursework. DeLeon recently completed an Explorer Internship at Microsoft, where he was a member of the Business Application Platform Team. DeLeon is active in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the UW Salsa Club, and Husky ADAPT, a program that supports accessible design and play in collaboration with the Allen School’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology and Mechanical Engineering’s Ability & Innovation Lab.

Allen School: What does being a first-generation student mean to you?

Simplicio DeLeon: To me, being a first-gen student means doing my best in school in order to pay back for all of the sacrifices my parents made for me.

Allen School: What advice do you have for future first-gen students?

SD: Everything might be really new and difficult but hang in there. You are capable and it’ll be worth it.

Allen School: What is your favorite part about being an Allen School student?

SD: My favorite part is being able to explore such a vast field. There are so many opportunities to check out different parts of computer science like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing. We have really talented and knowledgeable staff who you can talk to in order to learn more or find ways to explore further. My other favorite part of the Allen School is the people. There are so many different clubs and student groups here that I think everyone should look into. Aside from that, it’s always great to meet people either in classes, in the Allen Center atrium, or in the labs.

Dilraj Devgun

Dilraj Devgun is in his final year at UW, where he is majoring in Computer Science at the Allen School and pursuing a minor in Mathematics. Devgun has served as a teaching assistant for the Allen School’s introductory courses since 2017 and spent the past summer as a software engineering intern at Microsoft. Outside of the classroom, Devgun has engaged in systems research alongside Allen School professor Tom Anderson and served as lead iOS developer for the Stroke Research Team at the UW Medical Center. As a high school student in Bellevue, Washington, he co-founded Clockwork Development, LLC, an iOS app development company. Originally from Bracknell, England in the United Kingdom, Devgun has also lived in Canada and the U.S. states of Florida and Georgia.

Allen School: What does being a first-generation student mean to you?

Dilraj Devgun: Being a first-generation student isn’t something I think about on a daily basis now, but when I first started at UW and I was still trying to find my community, it was a defining factor about how I viewed myself in relation to everyone around me. I was left to rely largely on myself. I felt like I didn’t belong, and to this day I still shy away from telling anyone the full story about my upbringing; however, I wouldn’t trade the experience for any other. My father never finished high school because he left India as a refugee from the Sikh massacre. My Mum, having dealt with a hearing disability since birth, also never had much of an education — which left a large burden on me, as the environment I grew up in treated me with hostility. Education was largely seen as an escape, but we don’t have the guidance many others have. I feel proud to be where I am and to me the title of a first-generation student is a humbling fact since it gives me the time to reflect on who I am and where I came from.

Allen School: What advice do you have for future first-gen students?

DD: Don’t compare yourself to anyone around you. Focus on yourself and put in the work. Put aside pride and any lack of privilege, because hard work doesn’t discriminate. Everyone has to put in the effort and some people just have to work harder than the rest, but as long as you’re focused on your passion you can outwork anyone around you. There’s no guarantee of success, but the only thing you have control over is to do your best, so don’t give anything less than your best.

Allen School: What is your favorite part about being an Allen School student?

DD: I owe so much to the Allen School. They took a chance on me and offered me an education and community that I feel so proud to say that I’m a part of. Firstly, I love the classes that I take — I always learn something new each quarter. In addition to the education, the Allen School has provided opportunities for me to explore what my specific passion is within the field and to give back to other students in the form of teaching or mentoring. That is something I am really happy I have the chance to do.

“As a first-generation student myself, I know how transformative higher education can be for these students and their families,” said Allen School Director Hank Levy. “I also know that it can be challenging to overcome any obstacles along the way. We are thrilled to count Shariya, Simplicio, Dilraj and the many other first-gen students at the Allen School as members of our extended family and appreciate the diverse experiences and talents they bring to our campus and our field.”

Learn more about the National First-Generation College Celebration here.