Patricia Beekman is used to being the only girl in her computer science classes.
“It is very evident that way more guys are into engineering and computer science,” she said.
Beekman, a senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, became interested in computer science when she was a fourth-grader at Hawk Ridge Elementary School and learned how to make PowerPoint presentations.
Since then, she has been on the robotics team at both Ardrey Kell High School and NCSSM. Her robotics team was one of 35 that went to the world championships last year and is busy building a robot for this year’s competition.
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“We make the most incredible machines,” Beekman said. “It’s a blast.”
Beekman, 18, doesn’t want other girls to feel as alone as she has in science, technology, engineering and math classes and pursuits, so for her Girl Scout Gold Award project, Beekman developed a program to promote mechanical engineering for middle-school girls, including a curriculum and kits for implementing the lessons.
“I want girls to know they are not alone,” Beekman said.
It is a discovery she made firsthand when she was awarded the National Center for Women & Information Technology award for her aptitude and interest in computing, leadership ability, scholastic record and plans for post- secondary education.
“It was great to see so many other girls who are as passionate about this as I am,” Beekman said. “It was a big perk to not feel so alone as a girl in this field.”
Beekman is one of 35 winners selected from 2,691 applicants from throughout the U.S. She is not, however, the only girl from North Carolina to be honored.
Lauren Cook, a senior at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, also was an NCWIT winner.
Cook hopes to attend N.C. State University and major in computer science, and pursue her master’s degree and a career in computer programming.
“I am ecstatic that I am one of this year’s National Award winners,” Cook said. “It further encourages me to follow my passion within the IT field.”
Sharon Jones, Cook’s teacher and mentor at Phillip O. Berry Academy who serves at the school’s Career and Technical Education Instructional Management Coordinator, said, “Lauren is a natural leader. This award is a culmination of all of Lauren’s hard work as she has grown as an information-technology expert.”
Cook plans to share her expertise with other girls and is assisting in the creation of a summer camp for middle-school girls interested in computer science.
Beekman and Cook won the local NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Awards last year, which landed them paid summer internships last summer with Bank of America, which co-sponsors the NCWIT awards.
“The internship was an awesome experience,” Beekman said. “I loved meeting other girls who love engineering as much as I do.”
Each award winner received $500 in cash, a laptop and two engraved trophies, one for her and one for her school.
But perhaps the biggest prize is that these two North Carolina winners are paving the way for other girls to follow in their footsteps.
“I want to tell other girls who are interested in engineering and technology to go for it,” Beekman said.
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.