For the past two years she has been taking science courses at Columbia University, while taking a full load of classes in high school, winning robotics competitions, applying for a patent on a system that uses 3D printing technology to grow skin grafts for burn victims — and, in what’s left of her extra time on the weekends, this New York high school senior has been teaching young girls to code, performing classical piano in recitals and leading her fencing team to championships.
Wouldn’t that be enough to make any girl’s pappou and yiayia proud?
Well, now there’s one more achievement to brag about: granddaughter Dessie Ann DiMino, has taken the top honors as a winner of the 2016 Archimedes Award, the Next Generation Initiative scholarship founded by Dr. Andrew Economos, recognizing outstanding students of Hellenic descent who are pursuing studies and careers in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) related fields — and winning a four-year scholarship that she is taking with her to Caltech in September, where she will be majoring in Computer Science with a focus on Robotics and Bioinformatics.
If her prior record is any evidence, she is well-prepared to excel. After all, she’s been taking college science classes since 9th grade.
In addition to her demanding schedule of rigorous high school classes at Garden City High School in Long Island, New York — five AP courses alone this year as a senior, on top of the seven AP courses she has already completed — Ms. DiMino has been been taking courses on Saturday mornings at Columbia University for the past two years as part of Columbia’s Science Honors Program, enrolling in classes in Data Science, Virology, Nanotechnology and Neuroscience.
After conducting research in tissue engineering at the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at Stony Brook University, she developed a technology she calls “BioInk” using a hyaluronic acid that works in a 3D inkjet printer.
“As the ink is printed, it is activated by a UV light to form a gel that supports cell growth,” says Ms. DiMino. “By using a burn victim’s own dermal fibroblast cells, a sheet of his own skin can be grown to graft onto a wound that will not be rejected by his immune system.”
“With the use of 3-D printers you can design very specifically what you would like the gel to look like. In the future we hope to expand it to a wider array of cells and impact the growth of a lot of different cells, expanding into some areas such as dental stem cells to make teeth,” DiMino says.
In addition to applying for a provisional patent for her “BioInk,” her research project led to her selection as a Semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, and won her third place in the Engineering Category of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium regional semifinal, and third place in the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair’s Materials Science & Biomedical Engineering category.
“In the future, I hope to continue learning about computer science as it relates to robotic-aided surgery and bioinformatics,” says Ms. DiMino. “I believe computers will be applied to an increasing number of fields in and out of science, technology, math and engineering.”
“Robots have already begun to fit seamlessly into our lives and will continue to become more efficient and precise. I am especially interested in artificial intelligence, machine learning and how robots can be made more social to interact with humans,” says Ms. DiMino. “I would also like to continue doing research either in tissue engineering, big data or an area where I could use my coding skills, such as analyzing DNA. And I am also interested in the technology used in the business sector.”
Where did this all come from?
Dessie DiMino’s interest in coding started in 9th grade, when she won a scholarship from a local university to attend one undergraduate course of her choosing.
Since she couldn’t take computer coding classes at her high school, she decided to take Introduction to Computers and Programming at the university, earning a grade of A even though she was still a freshman in high school.
In 10th grade, Ms. DiMino used those coding skills to enter the world of robotics, becoming the lead programmer for a FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics team sponsored by the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, programming the team’s robot to work both autonomously and by remote control using a programming language called RobotC, which she learned online through Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy — and helping her team advance from local competitions to the Regional tournament in New York City, the East SuperRegional Championship Tournament in York, PA and the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship in St. Louis, MO.
After attending the Girls Who Code Program, Ms. DiMino started a Girls Who Code Club at her local library where she taught 35 girls computer science using a 30-hour curriculum — meeting every Saturday afternoon from 2 pm until 5 pm, after her morning classes at Columbia University. The first year, there weren’t enough laptops for all the girls, so she applied for a grant from PSEG Science Spark Partners and received $10,000 to purchase 25 laptops. This year, she is teaching a 40-hour curriculum using Python, meeting with her students every Sunday for 3 hours.
“It was hard for me to find places to learn how to code and once I was in those classes, I was often the only girl in the class,” says Ms. DiMino. “I want to make it easier for girls to learn coding by providing these courses to them, free of charge and in a non-intimidating environment.”
“Some of the girls from last year’s course told me that they were now considering a major in computer science because of the club,” reports Ms. DiMino. “When they graduate from this course, they will be considered Girls Who Code alumnae, which entitles them to special employment opportunities.”
“My goal is to give these girls not only coding skills, but also a support network as they enter the field of computer science.”
Spoken like the next generation leader she is.
But there’s more to a leader like Dessie DiMino than just her passion for science, computers and robots. Much more.
Having qualified to fence at the Junior Olympics and at the USA Fencing Summer National Championship, Ms. DiMino is captain of her high school varsity epee team, which has won the county championships for three years, and she herself placed 2nd in the county as an individual.
As a classical pianist, Ms. DiMino has been performing at festivals and competitions since 7th Grade. For the past five years, she been giving piano recitals at various senior centers in the local area, recruiting friends and classmates who are also musicians to accompany her.
But what really sets her apart from many of her (non-Greek) contemporaries, is where she says her success comes from: family.
“I would not be at the point I am today,” says this 2016 Archimedes Award winner, “if it weren’t for my Greek heritage and for the support and help of my family. They all have been very influential as I developed my own interests,” says Ms. DiMino.
“My brother was the first to suggest that I learn to code,” she says of her brother, John, who has a B.Sc. from MIT in mechanical and ocean engineering and is pursuing a Masters in systems engineering at Cornell.
“My sister, who also conducted science research in high school, helped me discover a field that I would be interested in researching,” she says of her sister, Gloria, who studied neuroscience at Columbia.
“My cousin Theo, we trade information and discuss new software,” she says of her cousin, Theodore Drivas, who has a B.Sc. from the University of Chicago in physics and math, and is currently working on his PhD and teaching programming at Johns Hopkins.
Where did all this come from? Ms. DiMino is clear on that point. “My grandparents. It was extremely important to both of them to see their children and grandchildren go to college,” says Ms. DiMino.
“My 87-year-old pappou drives a car with a multitude of college stickers on the back window from his four other grandchildren — but he has saved a special spot for the college that I’m going to!”
Her grandfather, John Michael Frangos, born in Kardamyla, Chios, had hoped to go to medical school in Athens. But World War II intervened, and unable to continue his schooling, he took to the sea, working to earn money to send to his mother and younger siblings, and eventually rising through the ranks to become a captain.
Her grandmother, Despina, who was born in the U.S., in Weirton, West Virginia, also holds a special place in Dessie’s heart.
“Even though she was at the top of her class,” says Ms. DiMino of her grandmother, “she was denied a college education because she was a girl. However, she always took advantage of opportunities to educate herself throughout her entire life and taught me, by example, to do the same.”
“As my yiayia’s namesake,” says Dessie DiMino, “I want to honor her memory by trying my best at high school and college.”
“From her, and from my grandfather, I have learned the Greek work ethic which encourages us to continuously strive for the best education and careers that we can achieve, despite hardships and setbacks.”
By striving for the best, and setting an example for others to follow, she is surely honoring her yiayia’s memory. On her way to Caltech as an Archimedes Scholar, Ms. DiMino joins the ranks of a group that the founder of the Archimedes Award, Dr. Andrew Economos has called, “able, accomplished, intelligent and… astonishing” — the emerging leaders and young scholars of the Next Generation who are writing the latest chapter in the Greek American story.