4 from R.I. receive national award for computing

FROM LEFT: Marissa Martell (Chariho High School), Fiona Heaney (Rogers High School), Michelle Pajaro (Times2 Academy).
Posted 5/15/13

PROVIDENCE – The national Center for Women & Information Technology and its Rhode Island affiliates – Roger Williams University and Tech Collective – have recognized three high school students and one information technology educator with the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing.

The NCWIT award was created to “encourage the computing aspirations of young women, introduce them to leadership opportunities in the field, and generate visibility for women’s participation in technology fields,” according to a release.

Winners are chosen for outstanding aptitude and interest in both technology and computing, as well as their leadership ability, academic history and plans for post-secondary education.

This is the first year that the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing has been presented in the Ocean State.

“With technology jobs projected to grow faster than all other job sectors in the next decade, it’s imperative that we nurture the computing aspirations of women, who will make up half the professional workforce,” said Lucy Sanders, CEO and Co-founder of NCWIT. “This award allows us recognize and encourage talent that might otherwise be overlooked.”

The three student honors in Rhode Island are: Fiona Heaney, senior at Rogers High School; Marissa Martell, sophomore at Chariho High School; and Michelle Pajaro, senior at Times2 Academy.

Heaney competed twice in the SkillsUSA Technical Computer Applications competition, placing seventh in 2011 and fifth in 2012 in the national competition. She will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall to pursue a computer science degree.

Martell, NCWIT’s youngest Aspirations Award recipient, fell into computers by accident and formerly described herself as a “complete computer novice,” until her class took on a project to build a computer from scratch. “I am most proud of this project because it showed that even thought I didn’t know much and I still have more to know, I can learn and really pursue this field,” said Martell in a statement.

Pajaro’s most recent project involved her using Python, Pybrain, and Numpy platforms to develop a neural network that could detect and classify human emotions displayed in photographs. She will attend the University of Rhode Island in the fall to study CIS this fall and said of her future aspirations: “I hope to pursue my love of everything technology-wise. … I understand that [IT] is a wide and ever-evolving field to enter, but that is what I like about it. It is always growing and pushing the theoretical boundaries of what is already there and what is to come.”

NCWIT also recognizes educators who demonstrate “passion and commitment” in engaging their students in the technology fields. This year’s educator recipient of the ward for Aspirations in Computing is: Monica Awde Wlodyka, IT instructor at the Newport Area Career and Tech Center.

According to the announcement, Wlodyka has long been an advocate of engaging students in technology. Eleven years ago, she was one of three Newport Area CTC educators of the first nationally recognized high school IT program in the state. Today, every freshman who attends Rogers High School takes a computing basics course with her.

After the basics course, students can elect to enroll in her IT program, which focuses on “all aspects of computing,” including hardware and software to critical thinking and teamwork.

“Bridging the generations by recognizing the talents of these young girls and ensuring there will be mentoring throughout a developing career is a unique mission of NCWIT that we are delighted to support,” said W. Brett McKenzie, professor of CIS at Roger William’s Gabelli School of Business, said in a statement.

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