Senior Profile: Emily Ki Wan Sim

Emily Ki Wan Sim poses for a portrait on May 9. (Madeleine Oliver / The Tufts Daily)

Ever since computer science major Emily Ki Wan Sim arrived at Tufts as the first in her family to go to college, she has worked to ensure it will be easier for others to follow in her footsteps. In four years, Sim has served as the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate Treasurer, worked as a STEM Ambassador for the Tufts Center for STEM Diversity, interned as a Civic Technology Fellow at Microsoft and most recently, co-founded a social venture named FIRE.

Hailing from Fullerton, Calif., Sim initially planned to study international literary and visual studies at Tufts. Yet she said that her view of technical disciplines completely changed after taking Introduction to Computer Science (COMP11).

“They emphasized computer science as a problem-solving class, and not necessarily a math or science class,” Sim said. “It helped us open our eyes to a new way of creative problem solving, for problems in the world.”

As a STEM Ambassador, Sim now forms part of a small cohort of fellow first-generation students who work to make STEM fields more accessible by teaching science in local high schools.

“I think all of us are first-generation students, so for us being in STEM means reclaiming a stake in a field that wasn’t really built for us to be a part of,” she said. “We want to pave the way for future students to first see us, and be like, ‘This is possible for me to do.’”

Sim, who is a DACA recipient, aims to leverage her technical skills towards uplifting marginalized communities. She has done so in co-founding FIRE, a multilingual mobile app that seeks to protect immigrant communities against unlawful enforcement tactics.

“Especially after the Trump administration, there have been increases in duplicitous ways that ICE has been trying to deport and arrest people,” Sim said. “So as someone who’s a part of that community … I see how ill-equipped someone in my parents’ generation [could be].”

Sim said that by providing a cohesive, accessible platform of legal rights, the app aims to democratize information and provide immigrants with an easily comprehensible defense tool.

“Not only are we trying to defend our community, we are trying to make sure that we can democratize the information in multiple languages,” Sim said of the project.

Sim will join Comcast this fall as a software engineer, where she hopes to build technical skills as a developer while working towards an eventual career in computational social science.

“For me computer science is so important as a woman and as a person who values tools to be able to attack problems with,” Sim said. “But for me my space isn’t just in industry — I want to be helping [to] orient the world in a more just way.”

Sim has also spent three years as a member of TCU Senate, where she worked to expand stipends for student leaders and streamline the budgeting process as TCU Treasurer.

“TCU Senate was really important to me to understand how to be empathetic and how to negotiate with people,” Sim said. “Looking at what [had] been passed down to me and given to me, and looking at the emerging needs of students, I had to … really creatively question: ‘ok, why does this system look the way it does?’”

Throughout her time at Tufts, Sim stressed that those around her have pushed her to rethink conventional notions of success. She expressed gratitude for mentors including Professor of the Practice Noah Mendelsohn in the computer science department, Associate Professor of Sociology Freeden Blume Oeur and the staff of the FIRST Resource Center at 20 Professors Row.

“I think at Tufts I really came out to understand how success isn’t defined by labels or traditional labels of meritocracy,” Sim said. “I think every part of this school really helps you reinforce that that’s not what learning is about and that’s not why you’re here … you’re here because you care about what you want to learn.”