SODA student receives national scholarship

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Career women in the field of technology and computer sciences are no longer as rare as they used to be, but it is still predominantly a male profession.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Keva Howe, a senior at the School of Dreams Academy in Los Lunas, won a scholarship out of 1,800 nationwide applicants from the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

The National Center for Women and Information Technology is working to increase women’s participation through academic scholarships and other support.

Keva Howe, 17, a senior at the School of Dreams Academy in Los Lunas, was selected for a NCWIT scholarship out of more than 1,800 applicants nationwide.

“It makes me feel that I’m being noticed for what I do from other people who are in that field,” Howe said.

She attributes winning the scholarship to her experience in robotics and the encouragement she received from her robotics teachers, Creighton Edington and Eric Brown, who is now dean of students.

Both educators encourage female students to get involved in robotics, and Edington made Howe aware of the NCWIT scholarship, she said.

The digital arts public charter school has an active robotics department that has brought home several trophies and awards from B.E.S.T. (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology), Botball and other robotics competitions.

Two other SODA students and fellow robotics team members, Danielle Garcia and Chloe Grubb, were selected as national NCWIT runner-up award winners.

“Our robotics team is very, very determined in what they do,” Howe said. “We were up all night one night, working on our robotics until our bus came to take us to Texas (for a regional robotics competition). We didn’t get any sleep that night, and then we’ve been up (at times) until three in the morning. We put in the work we want to.”

Howe and her father, Notah Howe, will travel to North Carolina in March for the 2013 National NCWIT Awards for Aspirations in Computing, which will honor 35 scholarship winners.

They are being recognized for outstanding computer engineering aptitude and aspirations, academic history, demonstrated leadership ability and post-secondary education.

Howe was recently accepted to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, and will start classes next fall.

She already won $500 in the regional NCWIT scholarship competition, now the national win will award her with another $500, plus a laptop computer and an engraved crystal, as well as the all-expense-paid trip to North Carolina for her and one parent.

Part of the application process involved writing essays, and Howe wrote three.

“They’re basically about how technology has helped us, how we faced challenges in robotics, what challenges we might face at school, in academics, and how we overcome them,” she said.

One test for her has been managing the time needed for her robotics classes and commitments with losing time traveling to classes at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus for her concurrent enrollment.

Another essay she wrote recounted when she led her Botball team in a competition at New Mexico State University, an effort that led to several awards and her greatest achievement, she said.

“Our team won third place and state,” she says proudly. “The thing that really helped me with this whole essay is my experience in robotics overall, everything that I’ve been involved with, whether it’s BEST robotics, Botball, or even something that I just started in, FIRST (another robotics competition). That really helped me out, because it lets them see what you’ve gone through in school and what you’re willing to do, which is take whatever opportunity you can.”

She also had to explain her aspirations, and how she would set about to accomplish them.

A mechanical engineer is what Howe wants to be, but that wasn’t always the case. Earlier, her love of animals convinced her she wanted to pursue veterinarian medicine. It wasn’t until she was exposed to robotics that she discovered her interest in engineering and computer science.

“I love animals, but I feel this (robotics) would be more right for me,” she said.

Her friend and robotics teammate, Danielle Garcia, wants to combine marine biology and engineering, because she wants to go into both, Howe said.

“I think that’s really neat, and I might end up doing that,” she said.

But at this point, Howe is really fired up about building robots, programming computers and even designing computer software.

“Almost anything is possible for me at this point,” she said. “But I want to stick with robotics throughout my life, since I enjoy it.”

Being involved in robotics has also helped her build self confidence, she said.

“I’m grateful the school has the program,” said Howe. “Something else that makes me real happy I’m part of the school is, it’s not the geeky thing of the school. When we were at the BEST competition in Texas, these girls came up to us, and they were like, ‘What? Your robotics team is actually liked? At our school we’re the geeks, and no one hangs out with us. Like, can we go to your school?’

” Because robotics is one of the cool things in our school — we’re proud to be geeks and nerds.”

Howe said she has been inspired by Talysa Ogas, daughter of SODA Principal Mike Ogas.

“She went to New Mexico Tech and now she’s in Hawaii working on finding a cure for cancer,” Howe said. “That’s awesome. Talysa basically opened my eyes to everything New Mexico Tech can offer, and helped me with my application.”

The NCWIT is a non-profit community of more than 300 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies and non-profits that help organizations recruit, retain and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers, according to the NCWIT scholarship press release.

In a world dependent on innovation, female engineers bring another perspective that can broaden problem-solving in the field.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that information technology will be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy, adding nearly 1.4 million job openings by 2020.

More than two-thirds of these jobs could go unfilled due to the insufficient pool of college graduates with computing-related degrees. NCWIT sees women as an untapped resource for the growing needs of a technology-driven economy.

“I’m really excited,” Howe said. “If you’re a young woman interested in engineering, don’t hesitate to go into it. Even if it’s the geeky thing at your school, just do it if you want to do it.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.