Sofia Ongele is a 20-year-old coder, student, activist, and founder of ReDawn, an award-winning app designed for iPhone that supports survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. From being a Kode with Klossy scholar to attending Apple Entrepreneur Camp and engaging her 200k+ followers on TikTok about key social issues, Sofia is on a mission to bridge tech and advocacy to make the world a better, safer place. In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Sofia spoke with Her Campus about her career as a young woman in tech and how ReDawn is helping survivors of sexual assault.
Her Campus: Tell us about your background. What inspired you to pursue a career in tech and advocacy?
Sofia Ongele: I’ve always been a civically engaged person. My parents really instilled this in me. They are from East Africa, and back home, they were advocates for social good. I’ve always wanted to be like that, too, and use my voice for some sort of change. When I discovered computer science specifically, I was looking for a way to use STEM to help people. With computer science, you can create and code literally whatever you want, and it’s out in the world! I realized I could use computer science to drive social change. I love that I can be at the crossroads of STEM and be able to genuinely help people. That’s the dream.
HC: What has your experience been like as a young woman in tech?
SO: Tech is the male-dominated field of all male-dominated fields! It’s funny because my first experiences in computer science were with girls at Kode with Klossy. I didn’t feel like a fish out of water — I felt at home there. Once I got to college, I was in classes where I was the only girl in the entire class and often the only Black girl in my class. Once you’re in college, it’s almost like imposter syndrome. You may wonder, “maybe I shouldn’t be a computer science major,” or “maybe I’m not cut out for this.” It can be hard when you’re not with people who look like you, or who are looking out for you.
HC: You created ReDawn, an app dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual assault. What motivated you to create the app?
SO: During my freshman year, there were three main things happening at the same time. First, one of my friends was assaulted. It was the worst, most awful thing, and so scary. It didn’t happen to me, but [I realized] there’s so much you have to do afterward. In school, they tell you what to do before [an assault], but not what to do after. Second, I was learning about sexual harassment law in my Women and Gender Studies class, and how people often don’t get the justice they seek. Third, Brett Kavanaugh was being confirmed to the Supreme Court — this was two weeks after the incident with my friend. You don’t want to hear about these things when you’re coming of age. Being upset with the way the system stands really drove me to create something, and create something fast.
HC: How can ReDawn help survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence?
SO: The first main feature of the app is a chatbot. If you’re in crisis or know someone who is, you can message the chatbot and say, “something just happened to my friend.” The chatbot asks questions and based on what you answer, you’ll get advice. You can then get connected to health centers and learn about the services that are offered, as well as directions.
As I was watching the Kavanaugh case and learning about Anita Hill in my Women and Gender Studies class, I also wondered, “Why is it that personal accounts don’t mean anything in the court of law?” I wanted to make something that would combat this. In the app, I made an incident log where you can enter what happened, who was there, where it was, and any information you have. It’ll be time-stamped based on the local time. Hypothetically, if someone wanted to report, you’d have a timestamped account of what happened so they can use it as evidence if need be.
HC: What’s something you want others to know about the topic of sexual assault?
SO: Often, people aren’t going to come out and share what’s happened to them because it’s such a stigmatized topic. There’s so much we need to be aware of. I think it all comes down to an idea of community care. You are your sister’s keeper; you have to look out for your community and the people you hold dear. It’s important, now more than ever, to really take care of each other and make sure others aren’t slipping through the cracks or feeling unsupported.
Before signing off, Sofia leaves the Her Campus community with some final words of wisdom. “There are so many opportunities to go out there and make what you want! It’s important to not get discouraged about what your classmates are doing,” she says. “Find your medium and explore it — for me, it’s coding. Use whatever your passion is to create change in your community.” It’s clear that Sofia goes above and beyond to help people around her, and we can’t wait to see what she does next.
Follow Sofia’s journey on TikTok @sewpheeyuh and on Instagram @sofiaongele. Download ReDawn here, and if you’re interested in pursuing a career in tech, check out Sofia’s list of helpful organizations: Kode With Klossy, Apple Entrepreneur Camp, NCWIT (National Center for Women in Information Technology), Built By Girls, Black Girls Code, and Girls Who Code.