Publish a book: check. Contribute research to a Harvard-run journal: check. Launch a computer science camp for young people: check.
That’s not all Paramus High School junior Danielle Park accomplished this past year. She was crowned one of 40 national winners, the only one from New Jersey, in the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s Award for Aspirations in Computing.
The awards recognize female, genderqueer or non-binary high school students across the U.S. who excel and wish to advance in technology and computing. Out of more than 3,500 applicants, the center chose 360 honorable mentions along with 40 national winners. Park received scholarship money, a MacBook and other devices she can use to continue her technological education.
Park didn’t expect to win the national award the first time she applied, a feeling she attributed to the “imposter syndrome” women and gender-diverse people in STEM fields often face.
“We take down our own accomplishments because we are comparing ourselves to others,” Park said. “But what makes me different is what makes me successful.”
Park wants other young people interested in computer science to experience that same realization. Edie Cheng, the director of Aspirations in Computing, said Park’s “deep, passionate commitment for making computing accessible to all” made Park a “standout” among this year’s award applicants.
More about Danielle Park:Paramus teen didn’t see people like herself in STEM books or classes. She plans to change that
Last April, Park self-published her book, “Under One Condition: An Introduction to Computer Science Principles and Programming in Python.” The book details basic lessons she learned in computer science classes in a way that middle and high school readers could understand. She hopes it inspires young girls and nonbinary people to enroll in high school computer science courses. She has already started a second book that explains the basics of Java programming.
Park uses “Under One Condition” as the textbook for Bergen CodeHers, a computer science program she created for rising seventh- and eighth-grade girls and genderqueer people. She teaches the same computer science and Python basics, and mentors students to become STEM leaders, during the eight-session course.
The award winner had to move Bergen CodeHers to the springtime this year to make time to check even more boxes on the STEM accomplishment list. Park is enrolled in a summer research program at the New Jersey Governor’s School of Engineering & Technology. She earned the coveted spot after her school selected her as its sole nominee for the Rutgers-led program.
“I was competing with some of the most inspiring kids … It was very shocking to see that I got in,” Park said. “I’m most excited to be able to work with like-minded peers in a setting where I can work with industry mentors and learn from Rutgers professors.”
Rutgers is only one college that already knows Park’s name. Her research is published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators, a publication run by Harvard graduate students that showcases middle and high school student research. Over the past year, Park worked as a research affiliate at New York University and participated in digital signal processing research at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She’s only beginning to tour college campuses, but for now Park hopes to attend Princeton University after her final year at Paramus High School.
Cheng, the award director, said Park’s “talent as a technologist” showed in her research and accomplishments at the university level, particularly her relevant studies about cryptographically secure voting systems.
“She is a precocious talent, and we are looking forward to hearing about more great things from Danielle going forward,” Cheng said.
Although Park was the only national winner from New Jersey, several local students received honorable mentions in this year’s NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing: Katherine Fang, Marlboro; Risha Surana, Chatham; Harita Suresh, Jersey City; Priyanka Suresh, Edison; Shriya Sudhakar, Princeton Junction; Maya Dummett, Morristown; Diana Elguera Tapia, Vauxhall; Annica Lam, Livingston; Anusha Bansal, Livingston; Anisha Tehim, Ridgewood; Rithika Thambireddy, Plainsboro; Sahasra Pokkunuri, Old Bridge; Samhita Pokkunuri, Old Bridge; Grace Tsai, Moorestown; Ashita Birla, Jersey City; Aileen Rangel, West New York; Esha Venkatanarayan, Edison; Kavya Venkatesan, Laurence Harbor; Carmella Holloway, Bridgeton; Aashika Jagadeesh, Fair Lawn; Saanvi Mehta, Linwood; Shreya Mogulothu, Princeton; Kavya Mukkamala, Plainsboro; Alveera Munshi, Kendall Park; Nidhi Mylavarapu, Princeton; Tamara Kasikovic, Matawan.
Sammy Gibbons is a culture reporter for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Region How We Live team. Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @sammykgibbons
For unlimited access to the most important news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.