Essay by Lydia Ignatova

Lydia Ignatova won the $7000 STEM Scholarship for Women for 2021.

With my brother zoned out watching Simpsons on my right and my mom softly snoring to my left, I sat hunched over the cramped airplane table. Barely 5 years old, my feet dangled above the floor as I carefully worked through a math workbook. Two ice cream breaks and twelve hours later, I proudly presented the finished product to my mom as we landed. Now seventeen, I still lose track of time working on math. Though I’ve moved on from basic arithmetic to differential equations, I’ve maintained my enthusiasm. This need to put the puzzle together also enamored me with computer science.

To grasp a strong understanding and dive deeply into the curriculum, I piled on classes at my high school and participated in dual enrollment at my local community college. For mathematics, I breezed through AP Calculus BC by the end of my sophomore year and have since learned multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. For computer science, I went beyond my high school’s AP courses in Java to explore C, C++, MATLAB, HTML, and even Data Structures at the college. This coming spring semester, I’m excited to bridge together my two favorite subjects with an introduction to computer discrete mathematics.

On top of academics, I immersed myself in engaging extracurriculars. I was president of the Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society and regularly competed at national math competitions including the Log 1 Competition, the High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling, and AMC, as well as in-person competitions at nearby universities. Last year, I was the only student from my high school to qualify for the AIME and I earned a score of 6. In addition, I led the Girls Who Code club on campus and ran an outreach program at a local middle school thanks to a grant from the National Center for Women and Information Technology. I also brought computer science to life by joining CubeSat, a program that enables high schoolers to launch a functioning satellite. As a member of the high-level laser communication team, I quickly picked up Python and coded programs to efficiently transfer spectrometer data from orbit back to our home station.

As I enter college next year, I’m excited to start my double major in mathematics and computer science, focusing on optimization and machine learning. I’ve spent ample time researching career opportunities and meeting with industry experts through the WAVE Built by Girls program, so I’m confident that I want to work on machine learning at a large software company. Specifically, I’m planning to develop more accurate language recognition software to make it accessible to users with heavy accents or regional dialects by essentially reverse-engineering the pronunciation. After a couple of years in the industry, I’ll go back to school and get a master’s degree to fine-tune my knowledge of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

In addition, I’m excited to continue to give back to the community. In college, I’m planning to join groups such as Women in Computer Science in order to continue to empower girls to explore STEM careers by running engaging workshops. Once I start my career, I can’t wait to once again work with the WAVE program, this time not as a mentee, but as a mentor to give driven students an insight into my life.


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