by Mary Wilson
As seniors in Grandview approach their final quarter of high school before graduation, things like prom, college admissions, dorm rooms and summer jobs are likely at the forefront of these young adults’ minds. However, for Grandview senior Chayanne Sandoval-Williams, her thoughts are on what sort of legacy she can leave behind.
“Taking what I have learned here and expanding on it more; that’s the point of all of this,” said Sandoval-Williams. “The goal of our team is to inspire people through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). You can’t do anything in the shadows; it’s too dark there. We have to go out and find some light and show off what we’re doing.”
Having just returned from a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she received the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC), Sandoval-Williams has had doors open for her in the world of computers and technology in the last few years. But, she didn’t always dream of working in the tech field.
“I always wanted to be a restaurant owner, but I needed some classes to fill my freshman schedule,” said Sandoval-Williams. “I noticed that there was a computer science class. At this point, I hadn’t even considered engineering because I wanted to be a business owner.”
She caught on, and somewhere along the way, technology became the forefront of her high school education. Sandoval-Williams said that here in the Midwest, girls going after the NCWIT award may not have the same access to opportunities as those from the coasts. She added, though, that whatever opportunities are given to girls like her, she sees them multiply the resources in order to accomplish great things. As the girls in technology programs continue to thrive, Sandoval-Williams said that they will begin leaving their marks and in the future, Midwesterners will see the same opportunities as those elsewhere in the country.
“There’s a huge disparity between what a girl in Silicon Valley may have versus a girl who may live in Indiana,” said Sandoval-Williams. “We are taking what we have and growing it because we want to decrease the lacks that we see compared to everywhere else.”
“I first applied for the Aspirations in Computing awards my sophomore year, but I didn’t have a lot under my belt at that point,” she said. “I was really just getting into the flow of things. I won regionally, and have continued applying year after year. This year, winning the national award, I have met females who have done astonishing things like starting organizations, and have gone across the world starting initiatives.”
Growing up in the age of dot com, Sandoval-Williams has had access to technology her entire life. During her eighth-grade year, she had a teacher who loaned her a book on HTML after she read a JAVA script book she checked out from the school library. During a break from school, she took the book and worked on learning HTML, building her first website.
“I was just bored and looking for something to do,” she said. “The website had a picture of my favorite band and flowers, and it was gaudy and awful. But, it was the first thing that I had created and I just fell in love with it.”
At that point, she said she still wasn’t sure that she would make a career out of this, as she was just playing around with what she had learned. Taking her first computer science class her freshman year, she was one of three females in the room.
“My teacher, Mr. Vance, saw something in me that I guess I had not seen in myself and he invited me to come to a robotics meeting,” she said. “So, I stuck around for a little bit, and one meeting became another, and over time I ended up falling in love with all of this.”
She said that what gave her an edge was that she took her interest in technology beyond the classroom. Due to the lack of programmers on the robotics team after a few months in, Sandoval-Williams learned how to program in just a few weeks and is, as a senior, now leading the show.
“It started with robotics, and it’ll end with robotics,” she said. “When I leave, the team will still be here and they’re still going to be strong. The goal is that I leave something behind for them. There is a world out there a lot bigger than Grandview, and I realized I could start here, but there is so much opportunity out there waiting.”
She has implemented a robotics mentorship program with students in Grandview elementary schools. With the understanding that technology moves fast (adding that the first robotics team in Grandview wasn’t even implemented yet when she was starting kindergarten), Sandoval-Williams sees the need to inspire and motivate the next generation of STEM learners.
Although, according to Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez, Sandoval-Williams is motivating more than just those in elementary school. Teachers, principals, counselors and district administration have all been impressed with the soft-spoken yet powerhouse of a teen that she is.
“Chayanne is the epitome of what we want to see from our students and how much they can accomplish,” said Rodrequez. “She was part of the all-girls engineering class and discovered a new passion. However, it is what she has done with that passion that is so amazing. Her continual drive to learn and to be better is infectious.”
Sandoval-Williams envisions Grandview being a hub for robotics and Project Lead the Way in the future. She is excited to see the district embrace STEM by beginning Project Lead the Way programming in pre-k classes.
“We’ll have this new generation of kids who will be saying, ‘I want to be an actor, or singer, or astronaut. I want to be an engineer,” she said. “That is super-duper exciting. We’re putting the stones in place for all of those students to reach those goals. There has always been an amazing emphasis on both STEM an the arts, and I think it’s important to continue to grow both, because they have to work together.”
“She makes everyone around her a better person and continually gives back to her school and to the school district,” said Rodrequez. “While I will be very sad to see her go, I told her I cannot wait to watch her walk across the stage, give her a diploma, and then just sit back and watch all the amazing things she will accomplish with her life after that moment. She is an excellent example, and one of many, of why I love this job.”
She was also selected as a recipient of KC Scholars scholarship, which would provide up to $10,000 per year up to five years of education at a Missouri post-secondary institution. Sandoval-Williams has her sights on something bigger for herself, though, and may be attending college out-of-state.
“I might not use it, but it is really cool to know that I have that available to me,” said Sandoval-Williams. “I came into my senior year with a large hunk of money waiting, and it helped push me to make a few key decisions.”
She is looking at universities on both the east and west coasts, but doesn’t intend to make a final announcement until the official College Decision Day on May 1.
“I am so lucky,” said Sandoval-Williams. “There has been this abundance of support for me, my sister and my family that has made all of the schooling experience so different in comparison to anywhere else.”
Ultimately, after she goes off to college, and has several years of a computer science career under her belt, Sandoval-Williams said that her dream would be to come back to Grandview and teach. She said thanks to teachers she has had over the years, who have inspired her and pushed her to try new and different things, she would like to help inspire another group of students.
“I’d like to be able to give back my time,” she said. “In all of the reflecting that I’ve done this year, I’ve found that one of the most valuable professions that will outlast the turns of time, all of the tech that will take over the world, all of the art that will fade in and out of popularity, the most important profession in all of existence will be teaching. The teachers will always have a direct influence on whatever happens in the future.”
Ideally, she sees herself in a remodeled version of her current teacher’s classroom teaching computer science. Her goals will remain lofty, and she said that she’d like to fulfill some of her passions like owning a restaurant and becoming a computer programmer first. Either way, she says, Grandview is and always will be her home.