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Former intern honored with national award

| January 30, 2018

NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing recipient Bekah Agwunobi plans to use computer science to drive social change

High school junior and former USC computer science intern Bekah Agwunobi worked on big data and mobile development, primarily geospatial crowdsourcing, at USC’s Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC). Photo/Kathryn Phillips.

For high school junior Bekah Agwunobi, knowledge is about digging deep.

“I always loved computers and was fascinated with their intricacies and taking them apart,” says Agwunobi, who had finished the high-school curriculum for computer science by eighth grade.

“I love to understand how things work.”

At USC’s Department of Computer Science, where she interned for two summers in professor Cyrus Shahabi’s Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC), Agwunobi came to the right place to turn that way of thinking into success.

“It was one of the first times I was faced with unbelievably challenging and rigorous computer science assignments, but I am so grateful because it taught me the value of persistence and resilience,” she says.

Her technical skill and can-do attitude has not gone unnoticed. The 15-year-old was recently awarded the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing, recognizing outstanding girls and women in technology. She was one of 40 winners of the national award out of 3,600 applicants.

Bekah Agwunobi pictured at USC during her 2015 summer internship with three fellow interns and professor Cyrus Shahabi (center).

Agwunobi joined USC the as part of the Institute for Educational Advancement Explore program, and spent the summers of 2015 and 2017 working on big data and mobile development, primarily geospatial crowdsourcing.

Since Agwunobi had just finished her freshman year at high school, Shahabi recalls that his PhD student assigned her fairly simple tasks to start with. But she quickly exceeded all expectations.

“We assigned Bekah tougher and tougher tasks until basically asking her to code her own auction reverse pricing strategies and schemes,” says Shahabi.

Agwunobi, who is currently in her junior year at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, CT, is already dreaming big about her future in technology.

After graduating college, where she hopes to study computer science with a minor political science or international relations, Agwunobi plans to run her own NGO or tech company. Her ultimate dream is to use computer science to promote social justice and effect change in the world. Along the way, she hopes to encourage other girls to explore computer science.

“Work on projects you are really passionate about,” she said, recommending finding and supporting other like-minded people as a key to success.

“At USC, I learned so much technically and the professors and grad students were unbelievably patient and kind,” says Agwunobi. “I feel like I made connections that will last for years to come.”

 

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