SU student wins coveted $10,000 Google scholarship


Maritza Smith-Romero said she just wanted to see "what would happen" when she completed the application to be in a competition for a $10,000 scholarship from Internet giant Google.

Several weeks later she received a document saying that she was one of 12 recipients of the Google Lime Scholarship Program scholarships.

"I got kind of lightheaded," said Smith-Romero, who is in the computer science master's degree program here at Southern University.

According to Google, competitors for the scholarship must be pursuing a computer science or computer engineering degree, maintaining a strong academic performance and must have long-term or recurring disabilities  "that impacts one or more major activities that others may consider to be a daily function."

Smith-Romero is a quadriplegic, the result of catastrophic injuries suffered during an accident in the 1990s. She has a motorized wheelchair and is assisted by her mother.

"I owe everything to her," Smith-Romero said with a smile.

Some of the other winners of the Google Lime scholarships are from a who's who among major U.S. colleges, including: Stanford University, Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie-Mellon University and Columbia University.

The 48-year-old Smith-Romero said she is proud to be among a distinguished group of students. "It says a lot about what I have learned and specifically, it says a lot about what I've learned at Southern University," she said. 

The money should help her tremendously toward completing her degree and launching her career in the technology field, she said.

Smith-Romero is a 1984 graduate of the Southern University Laboratory School. After graduation, she focused on a career in veterinary medicine and later zoology at Louisiana State University.

She moved away to the Boston area in the 1990s and it is where she suffered the accident that left her with profound physical disabilities.

She later returned to Baton Rouge after she was part of a downsizing program at her job. She came to live with her mother in Baker. She entered Southern's computer science program in the fall of 2010, encouraged by Deanna Roquemore, an assistant professor at the time in the Computer Science Department.

Dr. Ebrahim Khosravi, chair of the Computer Science Department, said Smith-Romeo has been an extraordinary and no-nonsense student since she entered the program. "She knows what she wants to do." Khosravi said. 

The students and faculty are so accustomed to seeing Smith-Romero and her mother that some of the students call Smith-Romero's mother, "mom."

"Southern has done everything right from Day One," Smith-Romero said. "Southern has done what they said they would do to assist me."

Smith-Romero will receive the Google scholarship for the 2015-2016 academic year. She and the other recipients will be invited to attend the annual Google Scholars' Retreat at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. Winners will also be considered for software engineering internship opportunities with Google.

Smith-Romeo said that sometime in the 2016 she will obtain her master's degree and that she intends to find a job in her field.  Khosravi said he believes she will be successful. 

"I know she will," he said.



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