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High School Students Recognized for Aspirations in Computing

Wed, 04/17/2024 - 03:13pm | By: Ivonne Kawas

Computing Award Group

Mercy Jaiyeola, assistant teaching professor of computer science; Makiya Wilson (Winner); Dr. Sarah Lee, director of CSCE; Sydney Smith (Honorable Mention); Micah Hill (Keynote Speaker).

The University of Southern Mississippi's (USM) School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering and the National Center for Women and Information (NCWIT) - Mississippi Affiliate, recognized high school students at the Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Award Luncheon held at the Hattiesburg campus last week.

As part of an effort to encourage a diverse range of students to choose careers in computing and technology, the AiC Awards honor 9th-12th grade women, genderqueer, and non-binary students for their computing-related achievements, aspirations, abilities, and influential guidance.

Award recipients were selected from more than 3,300 applicants from across the U.S. and Canada. In Mississippi, recipients included: 2 Winners, 2 Honorable Mentions, and a Rising Star.

“It is such an honor to recognize these amazing women,” said Dr. Sarah Lee, director of the School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering. “Our School is committed to providing programs like Aspirations in Computing to broaden and engage more Mississippi students with computing and cybersecurity.”

Mercy Jaiyeola, assistant teaching professor of computer science added: “The AiC Award plays a pivotal role in inspiring students, especially those from historically marginalized groups, to persist in their computing aspirations. It provides them with access to a supportive community with numerous professional development opportunities, igniting their passion and fostering greater diversity within the industry.

Along with a celebratory luncheon to honor the accomplishments of the awardees, the event featured a keynote speaker. This year’s speaker was Micah Hill, a USM information technology major hailing from Laurel, Miss.

As an Honors College Presidential Scholar and Luckyday Citizenship Scholar, Micah personifies the Southern Miss spirit and is an active member of the campus community. She’s involved in several organizations, including the Student Government Association’s Freshmen Associates, USM chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Society of Black Engineers.

The recipients for the 2024 NCWIT-Mississippi AiC Awards are:

Computing Award

Dr. Sarah Lee, director of CSCE; Makiya Wilson (Winner); Mercy Jaiyeola, assistant teaching professor of computer science.


Makiya Wilson

Brookhaven High School

Brookhaven, Miss.

Class of 2024

Aspirations: Passionate about technology, Makiya plans to major in computer science and promote diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. Makiya is committed to inspiring underrepresented groups, especially people of color and women, to pursue STEM careers.

Sara Sinha

Madison Central High School

Madison, Miss.

Class of 2025

Aspirations: With her sights set on higher education, Sara plans to attend Yale University and become an active member of the Women in Science at the Yale community. Her commitment extends to advocating for gender equality in STEM. Sara envisions a career in biotechnology, driven by a passion to enhance the quality of human life.


Sydney Smith 

Blair Center Hattiesburg High

Hattiesburg, Miss.

Class of 2024

Aspirations: A small business owner and young engineer who aspires to be a NASA Aerospace Engineer. With her small business, Eden Evolve, Sydney urges women in STEM that femininity is not a hindrance. Sydney plans on attending college with a major in aerospace engineering, with the goal of pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental sciences. She hopes to bridge the gap between space and earth while keeping the earth’s health in mind.

Emily Jia

Madison Central High School

Madison, Miss.

Class of 2025

Aspirations: Emily plans to excel in technology and computer programming, driven by her interest in the field since joining the Engineering Academy in 9th grade. She’s been deepening her skills in C++ and other programming languages to pursue a successful career in technology. She aims to promote inclusivity in coding by creating safe learning environments for young people, while actively participating in clubs and competitions to broaden her expertise and impact in the tech industry. 


Sadie Seal

Forrest County Agricultural High School

Wiggins, Miss.

Class of 2026

Aspirations: Sadie aims to pursue a career as an anesthesiologist, starting with her education at Pearl River Community College before transferring. She is an honor roll student involved in Beta Club and power lifting, demonstrating her academic excellence and commitment to extracurricular activities. In her free time, Sadie enjoys reading and spending time with friends, balancing her personal interests with her educational and career goals.

The NCWIT AiC High School Award is sponsored by Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Bloomberg, U.S. Department of Defense STEM, Jane Street, Match Group, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions Foundation, and Shopify. 

About The National Center for Women & Information Technology  

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is the farthest-reaching network of change leaders focused on advancing innovation by correcting underrepresentation in computing. NCWIT convenes, equips, and unifies nearly 1,600 change leader organizations nationwide to increase the influential and meaningful participation of girls and women –– at the intersections of race/ethnicity, class, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, and other historically marginalized identities –– in the field of computing, particularly in terms of innovation and development.