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Century High graduate combines love of programming, engineering

When Katie Biggs was a sophomore at Century High School, she joined an all-female robotics team and applied for a two-year Northrop Grumman engineering program that lead to an internship this coming summer.

Now Biggs, who was among the 297 students who graduated Saturday from Century, said she isn't sure why she made so many choices that pointed her down her intended career path when she was 15. She joined the robotics team because her friends were on it.

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"I thought, 'They seem to be having a really good time,' " she said.

Once the season was in full swing, Biggs said, she got caught up in everyone's enthusiasm. The all-girls team even went to the world championships for Vex Robotics.

Now, Biggs plans to attend Virginia Tech and study computer engineering, combining her affinity for programming and her love of hands-on design. Biggs is even living in a dorm for engineering students that has a workroom in the building.

Contrary to feeling excluded from engineering and programming — fields still criticized for being male-dominated — Biggs said she has gained from the recent push for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

"It's actually been an advantage because so many people are trying to get more women into engineering," she said.

Along with being on a female robotics team, Biggs said she was paired with a female engineer to mentor her through Northrop Grumman's High School Involvement Partnership program in her junior and senior years.

"It let you see that women do have a place in the engineering field," she said.

During the two-year program, Biggs spent one day a month at the Sykesville Northrop Grumman facility working on projects — an automated plant watering system last year and a workout feedback band this year — and learned professional development skills.

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"I never had a problem with feeling discouraged or like my opinion wasn't taken seriously because I was a girl," she said.

Bigg's mentor, Patty Schneider, said she sees less fear in young women interested in engineering now, and credited the support and encouragement they receive from teachers.

"Katie can see there are females in the profession and it's not all men," she said.

Schneider said the percentage of women in engineering is increasing but seeing women doing the work is different from just hearing about it.

Biggs will intern with Northrop Grumman through the summer, working at the headquarters for electronic systems. She said she will be part of a team and learn more about how the company works.

"I think that will be a good insight," she said.

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Schneider said she has to keep reminding herself that Biggs is only in high school because of her maturity and responsibility.

"It can be a little overwhelming for me because I look at the drive they have as high schoolers," Schneider said.

Biggs has also been the president of her class for three years and spoke at graduation.

"Pretty much everything with the word 'senior' I have to make sure gets done," she said.

Schneider said she was impressed from the start by Biggs' drive and ability to stay on top of her school work and extracurricular responsibilities as well as spending time at Northrop Grumman working on her projects.

"She's so young and has it all together," she said.

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Century High School Class of 2015:

There were 297 students in Century High School's graduating Class of 2015.

Their post-graduation plans are:

128 students will attend a four-year college.

78 are undecided about their plans.

71 students will attend a two-year college.

11 will enter the workforce.

8 will enlist in the military.

1 will attend trade school.

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