With graduation right around the corner, MacArthur High School senior Afaf Maliha has a lot on her plate. Nevertheless, she is actively encouraging and recruiting underclassmen, especially girls, to sign up for her school’s computer science program in order to ensure its continued success.

“Determined,” says MacArthur High School Computer Science Teacher Dennis Ramos when describing Maliha. “She has a vision for how she wants to do things, and if you try to sway her from that vision, she just ignores anything that might get in the way.”

Maliha first stepped foot into Ramos’ class during her sophomore year at MacArthur. 

“My mom was like ‘You’re doing computer science,’ and I was like, ‘Okay mom, whatever you say’,” she says. “I wasn’t really interested in coding. I had taken a Python course that summer, and I found it boring. In any case, I wanted to keep my options open, and I knew that it was a good career, so I went for it.”

“When she was in my class that first year, she was very quiet, reserved and hard to read,” says Ramos. “I wasn’t sure she was enjoying the class, but as time went on, she started to gain a liking for the subject. I think she enjoyed the challenge and how it interacted with almost every subject.”

As part of her AP Computer Science Principles class, Maliha was tasked with designing an app. It’s safe to say that it piqued her interest.

“When we started creating it, it was really fun to figure out the logic behind it all,” says Maliha. “At first, I made a super long, complicated code, and then with the help of one of my classmates, we figured out how to shorten it. That was exciting for me because it all seemed very logical, like a puzzle.”

It all started clicking, and Maliha found herself more engaged than in any of her other subjects. Up to that point, she wasn’t really ambitious about any career path in particular, but with computer science, she realized she could do it for fun and utilize her skills outside of the classroom. 

After three years in Ramos’s class, Maliha has worked with various coding languages such as HTML, Java and her old nemesis, Python, which has now become her favorite language to code in. She’s also racked up a few accolades along the way.

Last year, she helped found MacArthur’s first-ever Computer Science CTSO (Career Technical Student Organization) where she and her classmates competed at SkillsUSA in the Interactive Application & Game Development category. She and her partner designed a playable video game that won first place at the regional competition and qualified for the state competition. Rest assured, it was not a fluke or beginner’s luck. She and her partner won first place again at this year’s regional competition.

“It’s super exciting because we are the start of things,” says Maliha. “No one had ever represented MacArthur High School’s computer science program at SkillsUSA. It was Mr. Ramos’s first year being an advisor – we didn’t even know what the competition would be like!”  

Notwithstanding, she didn’t let that steer her way from competing, and to this day, she has remained unfazed by what her competition looked like.

“Just looking at me, I’m different in many ways,” says Maliha. “This industry is mainly composed of males, and the competition is reflective of that. When we go to competitions like SkillsUSA or TSA (Technology Student Association), there might be 40 contestants and only about two of them are girls, and they happen to be from my school.”

Maliha admits that while it can be hard to talk to people at first, once she manages to break out of her shell, she can speak to her strengths and fit in just fine. Speaking of strengths, public speaking happens to be one of her biggest strengths, and it has shined through at competitions, but especially at this year’s Irving ISD State of the District event where she was invited to share her success story.

“It takes a lot for a high school student to stand up there in front of the top brass of the district, hold their own on the floor and hold the attention of the crowd,” says Ramos. “It speaks very highly of her ability to get the job done when it counts. The sky is the limit for her.”

As her senior year draws to a close, she is looking forward to what the future holds. Having been accepted to her dream school, the University of Texas at Austin, Maliha hopes to double major in computer science and data science and eventually obtain a career in AI. One thing is for sure, she doesn’t want to be in the industry alone.

“I’m hoping more students become interested in computer science and competing at SkillsUSA and TSA,” says Maliha. “I’ve already started on making that happen. I’ve asked Mr. Ramos to tell me which students are interested so that I can talk to his classes. I already have a few juniors that I know will continue in the program, and ultimately, we just want computer science to be prominent enough so that everyone will want to join.”