STEM star: Los Altos teen wins national computing award

Courtesy of Sally Li
Menlo School senior Lauren Yang, left, works on her school’s Botball robotics team, which she founded when she was a freshman. The Los Altos resident recently received national recognition for excelling in computer science.

When Lauren Yang submitted her application for a national award honoring high school girls who excel in computer science, the Los Altos resident said she “had no expectations whatsoever.”

So months later, when she received a congratulatory email, Yang was ecstatic.

“Opening my email felt so good,” Yang said. “I ran down the stairs and told my parents and we all just jumped around.”

The Menlo School senior was one of 50 recipients among 3,500 applicants of the 2017 National Winner for Aspirations in Computing. Determined by the National Center for Women & Information Technology in an effort to encourage girls to pursue computer science, the award winners were announced in December.

The 50 girls from throughout the country were recognized for their interests and accomplishments in computing. All of them have been invited to the Bank of America Technology Stars of the Future Showcase and Awards Ceremony, scheduled Friday through Sunday in Charlotte, N.C. That’s where Yang and fellow winners will receive $500, a laptop and two engraved plaques.

Yang’s interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math began in fourth grade, when she joined the school robotics team.

“I think it’s the coolest thing how you can code in your computer and literally seconds later see a robot moving,” she said. “Robotics is what made me really want to pursue computer science.”

In middle school, Yang joined Botball robotics, and in her freshman year of high school founded the Menlo robotics team, which now boasts 80 members. She is president of the Botball Robotics Youth Advisory Council and has led Menlo’s robotics team at the FIRST Tech Challenge and several Botball tournaments.

Yang’s mom, Sally Li, said her daughter recognized the gender gap in STEM and “is passionate about promoting computer science and engineering to girls.”

Yang has spent the past two summers as a teaching assistant at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’s Outreach Summer program.

“I taught students everything from the societal impacts to programming aspects,” she said. “Next year I get to be head of residential life and stay with the girls on campus.”

Yang is also a member of a research team for an autonomous car project at the Stanford Toyota Center for AI Research.

Her talents spread outside the scope of STEM, too. She is editor-in-chief of Menlo’s newspaper and captain of Menlo’s girls varsity golf team.

“It’s nice to get on the course after a hard day of school,” said Yang, a former Town Crier intern.

This summer, Yang hopes to relax and spend time with friends and family before leaving for college. Her goals include earning a computer science degree, with a minor in economics, at the likes of Stanford University, Harvard University or MIT.

Yang encourages all students to expose themselves to computer science.

“Even if you haven’t tried STEM out, just give it a shot,” she said. “You never know – whether it’s artificial intelligence or engineering, there’s always something out there.”

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