Teen from Fox Chapel Area High School wins computing award
February 27, 2015 12:00 AM
By Kathleen Ganster
It would have been more surprising if Sonia Appasamy hadn’t received a 2015 Award for Aspirations in Computing.
Sonia was one of 35 young women in the nation and one of two in the state selected by the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Ever since she was very young, Sonia has been interested in building things, creating robots and computer programming.
“When I was in third grade, I became obsessed with Lego. I had a Lego robotic kit and every day after school, I will build a different robot,” she said.
Sonia, now 17, and a senior at Fox Chapel Area High School, loves everything to do with computers. She started teaching herself programming when she was in seventh grade and went from there.
“I would go on the Internet and find different programming tutorials and just teach myself. I started taking programming classes as soon as I could,” she said.
When Sonia exhausted the programming and computer science classes at Fox Chapel, she started taking courses at Carnegie Mellon University. She also took a couple of mathematics classes at the University of Pittsburgh.
In addition, Sonia joined Girls of Steel Robotics for young women in the Pittsburgh area. They build robots and compete against each other.
“There are about 45 girls involved. This year our theme is recycling, so we are building our robots, and then will bag them until the competition. It is really so much fun,” she said.
Sonia said she is the only one in her family who is so passionate about computers and programming. Her mother, Pierette, is a biology professor at Chatham University, and her father, Ragunath is a gastroenterologist. Her older sister, Nina, is leaning toward other career fields in her studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
Last summer, Sonia attended an MIT Launch program for high school students interested in learning about entrepreneurism. Sonia and her teammates created a cell phone battery rental service for their project. Building on what she learned, Sonia is now organizing a non-profit with other young women that will include a website and network for young women interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM.
“It will be a site where girls can come to network and connect with others. They can ask questions, display projects and share ideas. The idea is to get more girls involved in STEM,” Sonia said. She hopes to launch the website in April.
For the National Center honor, Sonia and her mother will travel to Charlotte, N.C., where she will be honored March 7 at the Bank of America Technology Stars of the Future Showcase and Awards Ceremony. Sonia will receive a $500 cash prize and a laptop computer. She will also win two engraved trophies, one for herself and one to be displayed at the Fox Chapel Area High School.
“It is pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to meeting the other winners,” she said.
As her studies at Fox Chapel come to a close, Sonia hasn’t selected her university for fall, but knows she wants to major in computer science with studies in business.
“I want to start a nonprofit to get assisted technology out there — I want to create programs and tools for those who need assistance in living,” she said.
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