Exceptional Young Women in Science and Technology: Recognizing Andrea Walker and Neehar Banerjee

Editor’s note: We want to recognize the achievements of and opportunities for young women (under 25 years of age) in science and technology in southeastern Minnesota. Please send ideas to editor@RWmagazine.com. 

Midwest Academic High Altitude Conference

Andrea Walker and Nathan Brown, students at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), were among the presenters at this year’s Midwest regional meeting of the Academic High Altitude Conference held at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 29. 

“This is the first year RCTC has participated in the conference,” says professor Dr. Rod Milbrandt. The Stratospheric Ballooning Association has held the conference each June for the last seven years in the Midwest region. “Presenting at St. Catherine’s gave us a wonderful opportunity to share our experience with the scientific community,” says Andrea Walker.

“I first became interested in physics when I attended the RCTC Physics and Engineering demo show with my dad while I was in middle school,” says Andrea. She remembers how seeing those experiments brought science to life. Durring her junior year in high school, Andrea took physics and, at RCTC, took the calculus-based physics series. Her love for the subject continues to grow. Andrea plans to continue her education at the University
of Minnesota.  

Experiences with High Altitude Ballooning

A semester-long research project in the Classical Physics ll course, taught by Dr. Rod Milbrandt, inspired Andrea and her project partners. “This year’s project was the most remarkable I’ve seen in 19 years of teaching college physics,” says
Dr. Milbrandt.  

While brainstorming topics, Nathan Brown found an article in a magazine on do-it-yourself high altitude ballooning. “The idea really appealed to me,” says Andrea.

They launched their first balloon in May 2015. 

Tracking it, Andrea says, “was like being a storm chaser.” In both 2015 and 2016, they lost contact with the balloon on its descent. In 2015, they lost contact at 30,000 feet and in 2016, at 77,000 feet. Searching for the signal from the balloon and recovering the data from the payload was an extremely rewarding experience. “Having success in a project from concept to completion is very satisfying,” says Andrea. 

Andrea advises girls to ask questions, seek to understand, make connections, develop communication skills and turn “failure” into opportunity.

Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing Awards

The Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing Awards honors young women in grades 9-12 for their computing-related achievements, and encourages young women to enter the field of technology. These young women bring talent to technology and reduce the gender gap in the workforce. Advance IT Minnesota announced the winners on April 19, 2016.  Neehar Banerjee is an award winner.

A 2016 graduate from Mayo High School, Neehar taught herself advanced computer languages and coding when she was in the eighth grade. “I realized that these languages are incredibly powerful and can make even our wildest dreams become a reality,” says Neehar. Teaching herself the language C++, Neehar was able to program a microcontroller that would detect when a lawn or plant had a high moisture level, which would shut an automatic sprinkler off, thus conserving water. “It was extremely rewarding to see something that I had envisioned become a reality with the help of various types of technology,” says Neehar.

Neehar will be attending Stanford University. Her hope is with technology, she will make a meaningful impact on other people’s lives.

 “I would just let other girls know that they are capable of pursuing whatever path they want to, whether or not there are many girls in their field,” says Neehar. Girls interested in technology should explore courses, classes and clubs in areas of interest. As a girl in many classes and activities, Neehar was in the minority, but that did not stop her from pursuing her dreams.

For more information about Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing Awards, visit: advanceitmn.org/aspirations-in-computing-awards/

 Anne Scherer is a freelance writer living in Rochester.