BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sarah Nyaanga is a senior at Williamsville North High School and is the WGRZ STEM Star of the Month for May 2022.
Upon graduation this spring, Sarah will be attending Purdue Northwest University in Indiana and plans to major in engineering with a focus in computer science. But it’s not without help from a major scholarship she won this past spring.
Sarah is a recipient of the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship, which is given specifically to women of minorities who want to pursue a degree in engineering. It's a program that includes $40,000 in scholarship money towards higher education and a paid internship at Amazon.
When Sarah found out she won the award, she was in disbelief.
“It was in shock, and I didn’t believe it initially. I was like how is this real? Because I couldn’t believe I won something so huge. My family was ecstatic!" Sarah said. She is thankful for how supportive her family has been with pursuing computer science and how this scholarship and career path could impact her future.
One of her computer science teachers at Williamsville North is Mike Mistretta, who was not surprised in the slightest, noting how she challenged herself during the pandemic to learn how to code.
"Academically I knew she was strong enough to take on an AP computer science course. So she enrolled in it. And last year it brought its challenges being remote and she was fully remote the whole year," Mike said.
He added the challenges of needing his students to advocate for themselves while learning remotely during the pandemic. And that’s something that Sarah would do.
"She perseveres, she finds alternative paths. That’s the beauty of computer science and teaching math as well. There’s more than one way to solve a problem," Mike said when speaking to Sarah's qualities as a student.
Mike also introduced Sarah to "Sisters Rise Up," a nationwide mentorship program that connects young women in high school to collegiate women who are studying computer science. It was a way for her to see more representation in the field, still noting that there’s not many who look like her.
And Sarah's advice to younger students: “I’d say keep sticking through it because it may be difficult, and believe me it was difficult in the beginning. It will open up so many doors. If I didn’t do CS I wouldn’t have this scholarship. I wouldn’t be going to this school. And it’s kind of incredible how something you had to work hard to get came to be.”