The Virginia/Washington, D.C., affiliate of the National Center for Women in IT held its second annual Award for Aspirations in Computing ceremony March 23 at the Virginia Tech Research Center -- Arlington, honoring a high school teacher and 14 high school students for their efforts to, respectively, teach and learn computer science.

The affiliate includes founding members George Mason University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia, as well as new members James Madison University, Norfolk State University, University of Richmond, Virginia State University, and the College William & Mary. 

Organizing the event were Virginia Tech’s Libby Bradford, director of external relations and undergraduate studies in the Department of Computer Science, and computer science professor and department head Barbara Ryder.

Sharon McPherson of Stafford, Va., a teacher at Colonial Forge High School, received the 2013 Outstanding Educator award from the affiliate. 

Student winners were:

  • Rachel Blacker of James Madison High School in Vienna; 
  • Kyla Bouldin of Washington-Lee High School in Arlington; 
  • Pooja Chandrashekar of Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria; \
  • Shelby Evans of Deep Run High School in Glen Allen; 
  • Selena Feng of Albemarle High School in Charlottesville; 
  • Vanessa Gentry of Atlee High School in Mechanicsville; 
  • Jaclyn Lasky of Chantilly High School in Chantilly; 
  • Breanne Long of Shenandoah Governor’s School in Fishersville; 
  • Wei Low of Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge; 
  • Zoya Mahajan of Stone Bridge High School in Stone Bridge; 
  • Jordan Newton of Deep Run High School in Glen Allen; 
  • Hannah Throckmorton of Halifax County High School in South Boston; 
  • Nnedimma Ugochukwu of Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C.; and 
  • Michelle Wang of Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria.

Student runners-up were:

  • Jessie Baker of Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg; 
  • Natasha Billard of E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg; 
  • Corinne Brodowski of Semper Doctrina (home school) in Purcellville; 
  • Kaneshia House of Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School in Washington, D.C.; 
  • Joche Koomson of Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg; 
  • Natalie Oldenburg of Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in Stone Ridge; and 
  • Patricia Tran of Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria.

The Fairfax event was funded with $2,000 in seed money from the national organization, with additional support and gifts for the winners provided by Genworth Financial, Google Inc., IBM, and Northrop Grumman Corp. Winners received prizes from multiple companies, as well as gift cards from Amazon and Best Buy. Each winner received two trophies: one for the winner and one to be displayed at her high school. At the Aspirations in Computing ceremony, the honorees heard from Jan Cuny, program officer for the National Science Foundation.

The Award for Aspirations in Computing honors young women at the high-school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. Awardees are selected for their computing and information technology aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education.

On the national level, the Award for Aspirations in Computing is part of the center’s talent development program that encourages young women to succeed in a field where they are underrepresented. It provides young women with visibility, community, leadership opportunities, support, research experiences, scholarships, and internships. Two national winners are from Virginia and each plans to attend Virginia Tech in fall 2013, said Bradford. They are Allison Collier of Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg and Kara Vaillancourt of Loudon Valley High School in Hamilton.

Winners of the Virginia/Washington, D.C. regional Award for Aspirations in Computing are offered a $1,000 renewable scholarship if they choose to study within Virginia Tech’s computer science department, said Ryder. Virginia Tech is the only university in Virginia to offer this type of scholarship.

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