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Student programmer wins national award

March 07, 2012
Penelope Biggs
Penelope Biggs

Avid robotics programmer Penelope Biggs, a senior at Benson Polytechnic High School, has received national recognition for her computing expertise.

Penelope is an enthusiastic robot builder and programmer — and quick to share her passion.

“She can take a complex idea and express it in easy to understand terms, without oversimplifying it,” says John DeLacy, who helps coach the Benson Robotics Club, of which Penelope is president.

Recently, Penelope received the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s Award for Aspirations in Computing. She will receive $500 cash, a laptop and a trip to North Carolina.

She is one of six students in Oregon and 35 nationwide to win the award this year.

'Honest to god programming'

Penelope joined the robotics club her first year at Benson.

“They were all psyched to get a girl,” she says, adding: “I’ve always liked math and science. I enjoy the challenge of designing and building a robot, and then seeing this finished piece of awesome.”

Penelope learned to use the RobotC programming language her sophomore year because the previous programmers had left the team. The following fall, she taught other team members, and went on to create a RobotC curriculum that she has used in workshops across Portland and at Girls Get IT, a camp for students in Hillsboro.

"RobotC is intimidating. It’s not one of these drag-and-drop programs," DeLacy says. "It’s honest-to-god programming."

Penelope will visit colleges and universities during spring break, and will likely major in computer science or electronics engineering.

Benson, she says, has served her well: “The combination of robotics and tech classes and academics that don’t put me to sleep have made this possible.”

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