Toombs wins statewide STEM Essay Contest

Published 11:18 am Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Lily Toombs, senior at Randolph-Henry High School and dual enrollment student in the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s Career Tech Academy, has been named a winner of the Eighth Annual Virginia Council on Women STEM essay contest. Nearly 1,000 young women from across the Commonwealth submitted entries, and only five winners, each representing a different geographic region, were selected.

“Every year, this contest rewards some of our brightest young women and provides them with scholarships to pursue their educational goals in high-demand STEM fields,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “The First Lady and I are extremely proud of this year’s contest winners, and all of the students across our Commonwealth who will lead our future as the next generation of scientists, doctors, coders and engineers.”

As a Career Tech Academy (CTA) student, Toombs attends classes five days a week at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) in South Boston. There, she studies mechatronics, a field combining electrical, mechanical, fluid power, robotics, and computer systems technology to control a process. “Mechatronics encompasses all of my core strengths, goals, and passions into one field of opportunity that will not only benefit myself but the world around me,” Toombs wrote in her essay.

Charlotte County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nancy Leonard praised Toombs’ dedication to strengthening her skills for the betterment of the community.

“We are so very proud of Lily’s recognition. This is a huge honor and is well deserved by such an outstanding young lady,” Leonard said.

Through a partnership between the SVHEC and Southside Virginia Community College, high school students enrolled in the Career Tech Academy earn college credit leading to a Career Studies Certificate. On May 11, Toombs participated in SVCC graduation exercises where she received a Career Studies Certificate in mechatronics. She will also test to earn the Siemens Level 1 Mechatronics Associate certification. This certification is recognized around the world, and opens doors to a wide variety of entry-level mechatronics technician positions.

On May 9, Toombs and her guests were invited to attend a reception hosted by Governor and First Lady Northam for the Women in STEM essay winners. Standing on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion, Toombs read her essay and received a $5,000 scholarship. “I was a little nervous the entire time but it was fun. It was my first time in Richmond and it’s a gorgeous city. I love it,” she said.

“Lily’s essay was phenomenal,” said CTA administrator Stephanie Robinson. “At the reception, there were so many people who remembered her essay and sought her out. Mechatronics was a new concept for many of them–even the Governor and First Lady seemed intrigued as she read her essay,” Robinson stated.

Although Toombs had never entered an essay contest before, when Robinson told her about the opportunity she decided to take a chance. “I wanted a way to pay for classes and help with my financial aid,” she said. After high school, Toombs plans to continue her Mechatronics studies in the SVHEC’s Level 2 course. In her essay she writes, “Heading into Mechatronics Engineering, I believe that the technology we use today could be developed to be safer for the Earth and its tenants. Studying and working in mechatronics gives me the opportunity to achieve my dream of running all automobiles and vehicles on green energy.”

The contest’s prize will completely cover Toombs tuition, and allow her to earn in-demand skills and industry recognized credentials debt free.

Currently, Toombs is the only female student in her Mechatronics class, but she knows there are other young women like her with an aptitude for hands-on learning and she hopes to be a positive example for them. “As the only female in my class, I’m motivated to work harder than the other class members to disprove the stereotypical ideas about women in engineering fields. This experience is what kick-started the idea that I could be a leader for younger women in the workforce,” she wrote.

The Career Tech Academy is a hands-on training program in mechatronics or information technology available to high school students from Halifax, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties. Through a partnership with Southside Virginia Community College, students may earn community college credits, a Career Studies certificate, and industry-recognized certifications. For more information visit or call (434) 572-5492.