A slate of talented individuals were awarded at the 2018 K-12 STEM Symposium for their strides in advancing science, technology, engineering and math education and diversity.
This is the first year the symposium has featured an awards program. A committee of WashingtonExec members selected from among the nominees to honor businesses and individuals for their efforts to promote or develop K-12 science and technology programs that add value to the local community and inspire the next generation of STEM leaders.
Best STEM Nonprofit: Boolean Girl
Boolean Girl aims to narrow the gender gap in STEM through education and exposure to computer programming and engineering. The organization runs afterschool clubs, summer caps and special events geared toward girls in elementary and middle school.
“Our build-it-yourself kit and free online curriculum give girls the tools to work at their own pace, track their progress and earn completion badges,” said Ingrid Sanden, who co-founded Boolean Girl along with Brian Moran and Sarah Eastman. “We believe that early engagement in positive environments is critical to increasing the numbers of girls selecting computer science and engineering as a lifelong pursuit and filling the technology pipeline — and the engineering field — with women.”
Moran said he is thrilled Boolean Girl was singled out for the award in its first year as a nonprofit.
“The STEM Symposium provided us with a great opportunity to engage more kids in our workshops (over 100 this year!), make new connections that will support our work, and build on existing partnerships,” he said. “We are so appreciative of those who worked so hard to put together such a meaningful event, and we look forward to participating again next year!”
STEM Rising Star: Kavya Kopparapu
A senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Kavya Kopparapu is the mind behind Eyeagnosis, a smartphone application for automatically screening for diabetic retinopathy. She has spoken at several high-profile events, including the 2017 March for Science D.C., TEDxHerndon and the Smithsonian Institute. Kopparapu is the founder and CEO of Girls Computing League and has served as a student human rights commissioner for Fairfax County Public Schools.
Her extensive list of accomplishments includes being among the 40 finalists in the 2017 Regeneron Science Talent Search for which she won $25,000. Kopparapu was also named a 2017 WebMD Health Hero for inventing Eyeagnosis. She developed the idea for Eyeagnosis on her own but collaborated with scientists at the National Eye Institute for data and guidance. The research was featured in several prominent technology publications, including IEEE Spectrum, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, Tech Crunch, The Verge and Science Alert.
Kopparapu has interned at MITRE Corp., worked as a research assistant at John Hopkins Medicine and served as a youth ambassador student representative on the board of directors, youth advisory board for Children’s Science Center.
After a highly competitive selection process, she was chosen as a Simons Research Fellow for Stony Brook University. Kopparapu developed the GlioVision platform in collaboration with the Department of Biomedical Informatics/ Computer Science at Stony Brook during the seven-week program.
She is enrolled at Harvard University for fall 2018.
STEM Rising Star: Kirthi Kumar
Since fifth grade, Kirthi Kumar has attended every STEM Symposium but one since the annual event began in 2013. Now a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson, Kumar was the winner of the STEM Rising Star Award.
The award was given to a student who has made strides in STEM and shown leadership potential. A committee of WashingtonExec members selected Kumar from a pool of nominees.
Kumar is the founder and CEO of SheSoft, an organization aimed at bridging the gender gap in STEM. She has programmed in multiple languages, including Java, C++, Python, MATLAB and HTML/CSS. Her first encounter with computer programming was in third grade using Scratch.
Some of Kumar’s projects include building a robotic arm using the Arduino UNO and Raspberry Pi, developing an award-winning computer game, creating an application to encrypt and decrypt messages to pictures using layered ciphers and building an application that helps a person keep track of their sugar intake.
Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and Connection newspaper. Among other recognitions, Kumar was the 2017 Virginia State Winner, 2017 National Honorable Mention, 2018 Virginia State Winner and 2018 National Honorable Mention for the National Center for Women in Information Technology awards.
Kumar sent her regrets for not being able to accept the award in person.
“This is the first year I missed attending it due to the State Science Fair at Virginia Tech, and I couldn’t let my team down at the state level,” she said. “Every time I left the symposium, I couldn’t stop talking about the numerous things I learned and how I wanted to apply them to solve the world’s problems. Thanks for everything STEM Symposium has offered to-date inspiring me in STEM.”
Most Inspiring STEM Executive: Anne Swanson, CGI Federal
Anne Swanson, U.S. education and workforce development coordinator for CGI, was honored as the Most Inspiring STEM Executive for her role as STEM@CGI lead. Those underrepresented in STEM fields — women, minorities, the economically disadvantaged and others — are a special focus of her work. Swanson said CGI values diversity, and representatives “understand its important role in serving CGI’s clients.”
STEM@CGI serves students and provides teacher training, mentorship programs and career events aimed at educational outreach. She led the effort to host the CGI STEM Camp as part of the company’s Dream Connectors program.
Swanson, whose life mission is “to connect good people with each other,” said she was honored and humbled by the award.
“In keeping with the superhero theme of the conference, I must give credit to my ‘Super Friends’ at CGI who volunteer in our STEM@CGI program,” she said. “These heroes have joined forces across the United States to ‘Build Tomorrow’s Superheroes, Today’ in the communities where they live and work. They are each helping create a better world for us all by both combating the STEM gap and helping ensure a more diverse and inclusive tech workforce.”
Company representatives enjoyed the symposium, too.
“We were able to utilize the event as a platform to share our passion for helping introduce, excite and mentor students who are unrepresented in STEM,” Swanson said.
Swanson’s numerous accolades including twice winning her company’s highest honor — Bridge Builder — for helping engage company members in civic causes. In 2016, she led the CGI U.S. team that won one of seven worldwide CGI Dream Connector grants. Under her leadership, six U.S. sites held CGI STEM camps for 450 students.
Previously, Swanson was the college recruiter for the Lafayette office, where she hired 160 new members over three years. From October 2015 to October 2016, she was CGI Lafayette’s corporate social responsibility chair.
A 2001 University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduate, Swanson is active in local civil rights efforts in her hometown, Lafayette, Louisiana.
She’s won two of CGI’s Bridge Builder awards, the company’s highest honor, for helping engage her company’s members in civic causes.
Best STEM-Supporting Business: Business Women’s Giving Circle
The Business Women’s Giving Circle was launched in 2014 by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia. It has positively impacted more than 1,300 girls and young women in the community. BWGC has awarded $178,000 to organizations providing experiences in STEM leadership and entrepreneurship.
Just in 2017, BWGC awarded $53,000 in grants to five nonprofits and schools that provide STEM leadership and entrepreneurship programs.
“We are honored to receive this award, yet more importantly, we are thankful for the many women who have given their funds and talents to support at-risk girls in STEM-related programs,” said Leigh Chowdhary of BGWC. “If you are a girl, remember that you can achieve your dreams — no matter how big. If you are a woman, we hope you will join us in changing the lives of girls — one STEM-related step at a time. All it takes is a small amount of funding to change the lives of these girls forever.”
Best STEM-Supporting Business: Northrop Grumman
Northrop Grumman and the Northrop Grumman Foundation support diversity in the STEM pipeline through charitable contributions, mentoring and internships and connecting employees to students through volunteerism.
“We are proud to be recognized for our commitment to STEM education and outreach,” said Karen Goetz, manager of corporate citizenship, Northrop Grumman Corporation. “Northrop Grumman believes in supporting STEM literacy across K-12 as a means of being a catalyst to inspire students and teachers to see STEM careers as a possible future and to help develop the next generation of STEM leaders.
“Northrop Grumman and the Northrop Grumman Foundation are working to help close the STEM opportunity gap for those underrepresented in STEM careers, including girls and students of color.”
The company and foundation are committed to expanding and enhancing the pipeline of diverse, talented STEM students globally, she said. They provide funding to sustainable STEM programs that span from preschool to high school and through collegiate levels, with a major emphasis on middle school students and teachers. In 2017, Northrop Grumman and the Northrop Grumman Foundation contributed more than $20.4 million to diverse STEM-related groups such as the Air Force Association and CyberPatriot, the REC Foundation (VEX Robotics), National Science Teachers Association, Great Minds in Stem (Viva Technology), EarthEcho International’s Expeditions and the Space Camp® program.