STEM Passions Lead to Competition and Education

Amanda M. Socci Education

Neha Bhat and Nithya Chintalapati are two young ladies whose passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has driven them to pursue opportunities in the field to inspire others to love it as much as they do. 

Currently, they are students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in Alexandria.  Bhat, a senior, and Chintalapati, a junior, met several years ago through mutual participation in a neighborhood club in Centreville, Robotics for Youth, that offered fun and interesting robotics challenges for kids in Centreville, Sterling, and other areas close by.

They also worked on their STEM skills as students at Nysmith school for gifted students, based in Herndon. At Nysmith, the girl participated in LEGO clubs, FIRST LEGO leagues, and science Olympiads.

Both Bhat and Chintalapati enjoyed the robotics challenges during their Robotics for Youth club meetings and learned a great deal, improving their knowledge and skills with each year of participation. As their interest in robotics increased, so did the challenges. Their focus led them to create a subgroup with other kids, Absolute Zero.

Absolute Zero, known as a First Tech Challenge (FTC) team, was comprised of boys and girls who worked together “to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format,” as per New Hampshire nonprofit FIRST’s website.

The Absolute Zero team began participating in local robotics competitions in different cities in Virginia and eventually moved on to regional competitions. In September 2018, Absolute Zero sent Bhat and Chintalapati to compete in the World Robot Olympiad (WRO) competition and they won in the senior category, instantly becoming national champions. 

Fresh off their win, Bhat and Chintalapati competed in the WRO international finals in Thailand in November 2018. Though they didn’t win, their participation was still a big deal as they were the only team from the DC metropolitan area as well as the only all-female team competing.

2018 was a record year for Bhat and Chintalapati as it was also the year they took their STEM passions to a new level with the start of their nonprofit group, STEMPowering Girls, whose mission it is to remove the gender gap in technology by empowering girls to pursue STEM, as per its website.

While still in high school, Bhat and Chintalapati continue to feed their passion for STEM through their rigorous academic curriculum and through active participation in Absolute Zero and their nonprofit STEMPowering Girls. The sky is the limit for these two!

An emerging leader in its own right, Robotics for Youth has grown from a humble neighborhood venture to a full-fledged nonprofit organization managed by university students. For more information, visit:

STEMPowering Girls offers summer workshops for kids in EV3, Python, and Java computer programming languages. For more information, visit:

Pictured at top:

From L to R: Nithya Chintalapati, Dishaa Bhat, and Neha Bhat members of Absolute Zero robotics group from Sterling, VA attended the international finals of the World Robot Olympiad competition in Thailand in November 2018.