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Local students honored for math, science achievements

Mentorship opportunities key to Sandia recognition program

Sandia National Laboratories presented its annual math and science awards May 20 to 31 girls from Bay Area high schools, celebrating their academic accomplishments and potential -- with three of the girls from Pleasanton schools.

"I want to congratulate each of you for your academic excellence and encourage you to continue your passion for math and science," Marianne Walck, vice president of Sandia's California site. "It's frustrating that women are still underrepresented in many technical fields. At this event you will meet Sandia women working in math and science whom I hope will serve as inspiration and encouragement for what is possible for your future."

The Math and Science Awards program is designed to encourage high-achieving young women to continue studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects and create mentoring opportunities. Teachers from 17 high schools in Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton, Tracy, Lathrop, Manteca, Stockton and Oakland nominated students they deemed outstanding in math and science.

The following Pleasanton teens were the winners of the 2015 Math and Science Awards:

Outstanding Achievement in Mathematics

• Alexandra Hawkins, Amador Valley High School

• Suhasiny Naik, Foothill High School

Outstanding Achievement in Science

• Catherine Tu, Amador Valley High School

All the winners were recognized by state and federal officials. State Assemblywoman Catharine Baker presented certificates to the winners, as well as representatives from the offices of Reps. Barbara Lee, Jeff Denham and Eric Swalwell.

Wednesday's award ceremony also gave the girls and their families to learn about different careers in math and science by talking to Sandia researchers.

Sandia mechanical engineer Myra Blaylock and technical editor and writer Emmeline Chen shared their personal stories, which included how their career paths have gone in unexpected directions.

"I didn't take a straight path to get to where I am now, but that led to some great experiences," said Blaylock. "Always keep learning, and don't be afraid to switch career paths." She switched from astrophysics to geophysics to astronomy to wind energy before settling into her fluids analyst position at Sandia.

Chen advised the girls to remain open to opportunities. "Very soon, you will have many important decisions to make about where to attend college, what major to choose and which opportunities to pursue," she said. "It may feel overwhelming, but consider these choices a gift, and remember that no single decision is going to determine your life path."

Each award winner was paired with a Sandia mentor, a woman working in a STEM field.

"Our goal is that these introductions are the start of a long relationship," said Cathy Branda, a manager in Sandia's biological sciences program and chair of the Math and Science Awards. "When I was a student, connecting with women already working in my field was a great help. We hope to provide that opportunity to these talented young women."

Other award winners include:

Outstanding Achievement in Mathematics

• Illeanna Gutierrez, Castlemont High School

• Meylin Serrano, Coliseum College Prep Academy

• Katherine Raja, Dublin High School

• Megan McCandless, Granada High School

• Aiyana Bergren, Lathrop High School

• Emma Kristovich, Livermore High School

• Kelsey Conway, Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory High School

• Makayla Dodd, Manteca High School

• Khadija Flowers, McClymonds High School

• Jasmeen Sandhu, Merrill F. West High School

• Amy Wise, Millennium High School

• Kayla Wilson, Sierra High School

• Pallavi Adapa, Tracy High School

Outstanding Achievement in Science

• Susana Lopez, Castlemont High School

• Jessica Rodriguez, Coliseum College Prep Academy

• Alessia Stewart, Dublin High School

• Vanessa Angeles, Granada High School

• Medha Kothari, John C. Kimball High School

• Lisa Thongmanivong, Lathrop High School

• Christine Cummings, Livermore High School

• Camille Zaug, Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory High School

• Kyleigh Range, Manteca High School

• Yuliza Rios-Oregon, McClymonds High School

• Jessica Huynh, Merrill F. West High School

• Leanne Velasco, Millennium High School

• Candice Lao, Sierra High School

• Isabel Ortiz-Gelder, Tracy High School

• April Vang, Weston Ranch

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