By Aaron Talley
Ramstein High School senior Angely Atkinson has been interested in computers since she was a kid. Growing up in the age of iPhones and the internet, she says she couldn’t get enough technology. But she had to wait until high school to be able to study her passion.
Even then, it almost didn’t happen.
Atkinson was selected to attend a computer science magnet school in Texas as a freshman in the fall of 2018 when her family received last-minute orders to move to Ramstein, Germany. “I had to come up with a backup plan,” she said.
Fortunately, the DoDEA high school in Ramstein offered a Career and Technical Education pathway in Information Technology. But then, another hurdle; there were no in-person classes available. Enter the DoDEA Virtual High School (DVHS), which is where she discovered some of the favorite courses of her high school career.
From Coding and Java to AP Computer Science, Atkinson took every computer course she could. The learning structure of DVHS allowed her to learn at her own pace, which was often faster than a normal classroom pace. “What I love about these courses is that they allowed me to really dive into the coursework,” she said. “DVHS courses also allow students to get ahead on their coursework. I often found myself at least a week and a half ahead of schedule which made balancing other classes a breeze.”
One of Atkinson’s teachers at DVHS was Susan Gafford, who teaches AP Computer Science. Gafford said her prized student was consistently on time and engaged in the coursework. “Besides being very intelligent, she is also diligent, conscientious, and meticulous with her assignments,” Gafford said.
All that hard work seems to have paid off, because Atkinson was just named a winner of the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship Program. This prestigious award includes a $40,000 scholarship and a paid internship at Amazon after her first year of college.
“Winning this scholarship means the world to me,” she said. “I have been in shock since I received the news.”
Atkinson credits not just her studies in computer science but all her other extra-curricular activities as well. She is president of her school’s Mathematics Honors Society, she coordinates a tutoring program at the school, and plays a variety of musical instruments. “All these activities helped me become the person I am today. You might not see the purpose in leading clubs, studying, and getting good grades but all that catches up to you. You get what you put in.”
While the scholarship money is going to be a huge help in paying for college, Atkinson is most excited at the chance to work at Amazon as a paid intern next summer. “The internship is arguably the best part of winning the scholarship,” she said. “I can gain hands on experience and am able to work with real Amazon associates. This is something I can put on my resume and will undoubtedly help me in the future when applying for more internships and ultimately finding a job.”
Gafford is thrilled for her former student. “It means more to me than any award I could possibly win myself,” she said. “I am so proud of the amount of time she put into the course and the time she put into applying for colleges and scholarships. She is a phenomenal student, and this scholarship can truly be a life-changing opportunity that gives her a step ahead as she starts her college years.”
Atkinson acknowledges that her success would not have been possible without the Virtual High School. She recommends other students consider taking online courses to expand their educational opportunities. “Taking DVHS courses have helped me become my own advocate for learning,” she said. “In a virtual class there isn’t a teacher to push you to do your work or study. You are responsible for staying on top of your class.”
She encourages other students to take advantage of the expanded course offerings of the DVHS. “I would urge students to take DVHS courses,” she said. “Not only do you get a chance to take courses not offered at your school, but you also gain experience in time management before taking more challenging AP or honors courses.”
As she finishes up her time at Ramstein High School, Atkinson says she is grateful for all the opportunities that living and going to school overseas has offered her. “My time in DoDEA has been an awesome experience. Moving to a new country, meeting new people, and traveling are something I will never forget.”
She also wants her success to inspire the next generation of computer science students. “I hope I can be a role model for future Ramstein students, especially young girls looking at careers in tech.”