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Student’s academic excellence rooted in faith, desire to learn

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AnneMarie Caballero, a senior at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria with an outstanding 4.5 GPA, is on her way to study computer science as an undergraduate at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., this fall, but surprisingly her first taste of coding was a bad one.

“I first tried out computer science at an astrophysics summer camp and ironically I kind of hated it,” Caballero said. Instead of stopping there, however, she decided to give it one more shot after seeing a computer programming class offered in her high school’s course catalog. Her parents’ perspective on learning played a decisive role as well.

“They have always encouraged me to treat everything as an opportunity to learn. You just never know, something that you thought you were really bad at could be something that you actually excel at,” Caballero said. “And that’s definitely what happened with me and computer science.”

As it turns out, her extracurricular activities and passions helped build the skills needed for her to succeed in writing code and understanding computer languages. 

Caballero’s tenure as the editor-in-chief of her school’s Cambridge Road Literary Magazine and her love of literature taught her to value precision in language, a key aspect of successfully coding. Her parents’ advice that “it’s ok to be the only one constantly raising your hand in class,” gave her the courage to come up with unorthodox solutions even when “the rest of the class was going in a different direction.” Also, her participation in the Model United Nations showed her the importance of team-building and collaboration. She credits the Girl Scouts with giving her confidence and inspiration. 

“My mom was my first troop leader and it was really inspiring to have great role models and motivated women around me,” Caballero said.

She went on to encourage other girls to pursue computer science through a weeklong program for middle schoolers that she developed, ran and taught, and that she won a Girl Scout Gold Award for as well. Caballero also helped set up a Girls Who Code initiative at Ireton with the support of her computer science teacher, Terri Kelly. Girls Who Code is a national organization that seeks to increase female representation in technology fields.

“Mrs. Kelly taught me how to love computer programming and it is because of her help that my classmates and I were able to start Girls Who Code after school,” Caballero said.

Her Catholic faith plays a significant role in her pursuit of academic excellence. At a weekend Kairos retreat her senior year she said that she developed a more intimate relationship with God.

“I have always believed in God, but the retreat got me in touch with cultivating a personal relationship with God and to see how I can live that out in relationship with other people,” Caballero said. 

Born and raised in Alexandria, she is a parishioner of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria. During the retreat, she said she realized how important it is to take full advantage of the gifts God has given her.

At Ireton, she received nine academic awards, including AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Letter of Commendation and the Marguerite Scafati Award for Academic Excellence. She also received the Bishop Ireton Salesian Scholarship that paid for half of her high school tuition. She participated in 15 academic summer programs, played junior varsity volleyball and was a flutist in wind ensemble.

“My dream job right now is to work at Google London,” Caballero said. “It is so crazy to me looking back on it now because taking that one computer programming class freshman year changed a lot of my life decisions. We’ll see where this journey takes me.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019