Grassroots Campaigns Aren’t Just for Politicians: How Data Scientist Sarah Asio is Bringing Innovation to Uganda

Sarah Asio, PhD ● Data Science Lead ● Johnson & Johnson

Sarah Asio, PhD ● Data Science Lead ● Johnson & Johnson

Sarah’s journey to STEM began as a young child in Uganda with a fascination for mechanical appliances and electronics around the house. When she began college, she was set on majoring in electrical engineering, but changed her mind once someone told her about the endless possibilities of an industrial engineering degree. She quickly realized that this path would still allow her to enjoy math and science, but in a manner that could positively influence her community back home in Uganda.

“In Africa, infrastructure and development are really important. I understood that my economy needed more input in this area and I made a more informed decision to pursue my first degree in industrial engineering. It would be the best way to make an impact in my country.”

After college, Sarah moved to the United States to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and later went on to pursue her doctoral degree in industrial engineering at Texas Tech University. Sarah eventually made the big switch into data science when her first role at Bayer focused on digitizing agriculture. She developed digital tools and solutions to empower farmers to produce more food with less seed and ground.

“I was able to connect my original passion of making a difference and trying to empower economies to mature and remain sustainable, while also providing for indigenous people so they can develop as a nation.”

Sarah’s current role as Data Science Lead at Johnson & Johnson combines business strategy and developing technical solutions that align with the company’s values and global presence. She believes that data science is the new “gold” that goes hand-in-hand with artificial intelligence. In the next decade, she predicts that services and products will be completely transformed by decades of data from end-users, consumers, and practitioners. Sarah expects to see services across industries that are more customized to the consumer’s needs, as she believes that this type of data has the power to diagnose problems occurring societally and make a real impact.

Sarah herself is no stranger to the challenges and obstacles of the indigenous people in her country. She at one point struggled to afford her studies in the states but credits her Christian faith and persistence in applying for scholarships as her way of overcoming financial challenges. Because she did not have family in the US, Sarah found a sense of community in international student groups that helped her navigate life and education in the Western world.

Outside of her work as an engineer and data scientist, Sarah keeps her ties to Uganda strong.

“I’ve always had a passion to empower people with knowledge and help them see what they’re capable of doing.”

Sarah collaborates with local partners in Uganda to find local talent that want to learn different areas of data science. She teaches them basic courses in STEM, and helps steer them in the right direction to obtain technical certifications.

“I strongly believe in the grassroots approach in finding and training local people with the skills and talents to innovate what they have in order to solve problems in their culture and community.”

Sarah is most proud of this work she has been able to do with Ugandans to assist them in creating influential and innovative products for their communities. When it comes to confidently navigating the workplace as a woman, Sarah encourages women to unapologetically own their accomplishments.

“Look at what you’ve achieved and know that you have the right to be in the environment you’re in. Stand boldly for yourself and let no one overlook you or sidestep you. Own your own truth. Speak confidently and be proud that you earned the right to be there on merit.”

Sarah loves to spend time learning as her journey in STEM continues to evolve. Her personal philosophy is to learn more about other people and use a grassroots approach to help them better understand themselves and how they can help their communities with what they have.

Sarah Asio received a 2010-11 AAUW International Fellowship that funded her master’s degree in industrial engineering at University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Her story is told in partnership with AAUW, which has a long history of opening doors for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), from the classroom to Capitol Hill.

This story was written by Stephanie Nweke, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on LinkedIn. We are now accepting applications for our Fall 2019 Journalism Fellowship. Apply here by October 6th!