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An interesting article in today's newspaper

Can you spell J-U-R-Y?: Judge gives jurors Scrabble, other board games to pass time. Page A2

SMART Code of Life founder Ambica Ramchandra 'has a real drive to not let anyone deter her from her dreams'

The girls rummage through boxes of electrical components, laid out on a row of long folding tables in a church hall. They attach some wires to an LED light, a computer fan, small sensors and bring them to life.

“When we connect these pieces together, you create a complete circuit system,” Ambica Ramchandra tells them. “You can then connect this to your computer, your laptop, and through a program, you can code this. You can tell that circuit what to do. If I have a camera attached to my circuit, and it senses a moving object, I can tell it to send a text message to my phone.”

Ramchandra wants to teach the mostly middle school-aged girls more than how to build a rudimentary security system, though. She hopes that a few of them might be inspired to become computer engineers, software designers, innovators.

Ramchandra, 17, is founder of SMART Code of Life, a program with the goal of empowering young women by spurring an interest in science and technology.

Through the program, she has organized workshops throughout the community. Last year, she also hosted a camp for refugee students.

“She has a real drive to not let anyone deter her from her dreams,” said Sharon Lassiter, curriculum facilitator at The STEM Early College at N.C. A&T, from which Ramchandra graduated this year.

“And she encourages other students to have a purpose, have a passion and be committed to serving others,” Lassiter said. “When you have service at the center of what it is you’re doing, then whatever career you’re in, you’re meeting a greater purpose other than just working, than just making money.”

When she was in middle school, Ramchandra attended an information technology camp for girls, which she said “really fortified my love for computer science.” Later on as a high school student, she also became interested in the business aspects of the technology sector.

“At the same time, I had an interest in neuroscience,” she said. “And so I wanted to show how interdisciplinary technology can be with a focus on neuroscience, entrepreneurship and computing.”

She founded SMART during her sophomore year at STEM, and took about a year to develop a curriculum for it.

Those who attend SMART camps and workshops learn about three main topics.

“The first is the Internet of Things (IOT) technology — how you can connect inanimate objects so that they can communicate with each other,” Ramchandra said. “And then we take them into neural networking, how that relates to IOT and robotics. After that we go into the computing portion, which involves this simple software developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to help students create apps.”

Students also go through a session on entrepreneurship in the science and technology fields. According to a recent report from the National Science Foundation, women in 2016 (the most recent year for which it provides figures) earned only 19% of undergraduate computer science degrees issued in the United States, and only 21% of engineering degrees. Forty-two percent of math and statistics degrees were earned by women.

“I always felt like an outlier,” Ramchandra said. “But one of the goals of SMART is to help eradicate that gender gap in the workforce in the tech field.”

On a Wednesday afternoon in August, she and a 16-year-old assistant, Sanvi Korsapathy, put on a workshop at Garden of Prayer Sovereign Grace Baptist Church on North English Street in Greensboro. Roughly a dozen girls are in the class, which Ramchandra starts out by asking, “Who feels powerful?”

A few raise their hands.

“Well,” she says. “Everyone should feel powerful.”

She asks everyone to introduce themselves, and to “say it loud.”

After the introduction she sets out some LittleBits kits — the boxes of electronic components — and shows the girls how to piece them together.

“When our girls see girls really involved in technology, that makes them think that ‘maybe this is something I can do,’ ” said Brenda Mewborn, executive director for Empowered Girls of North Carolina, who was coordinating the event. “They don’t see that as much as they should.”

Nearby, Ramchandra is shooting a video of a girl talking about how she dealt with a bully, encouraging her to say, “I’m a powerful woman.”

Ramchandra is a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she said she plans to study economics and computer science, possibly managing a nonprofit after she graduates. She also said she plans to continue SMART in college.

“My assistants are in high school, and they will be expanding it,” she said. “And also, I’d like to try to get some of my peers in college involved in the program. We want girls to continue to feel empowered and be brave enough to venture into things they might be scared of. That’s inspired me to keep moving forward with it.”

Greensboro native wins Steve Harvey's standup competition

GREENSBORO — Humor runs in Ken Miller’s family.

“I have a very loving and funny family,” Miller said, “And when we’re together, it’s just jokes on jokes on jokes.”

Miller makes part of his living being funny. A Greensboro native who now lives in Orlando, Fla., he spends his days working as an engineer for Sprint and his weekend nights as a stand-up comic.

That funny side paid off last month, when Miller won Steve Harvey’s inaugural Standup Spotlight top prize.

The comedian and TV host liked what he saw in Miller’s routine, “I am just a father,” even if Miller didn’t win in online public voting.

“I know funny when I see it,” Harvey said in the video announcing Miller’s win.

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Although it was a tough decision, Harvey said, “I picked him because he has such rich material, such relatable material.”

Miller happened to be in a Best Buy in Albany, N.Y., about to go on stage at a nearby comedy club, when a friend called to say that he had won.

He fell to his knees and started to cry.

“Steve Harvey said my name!” Miller says.

An otherwise talkative man at 42, Miller finds it difficult to express how he feels about his win.

“For one of the Kings of Comedy to pick me out of 1,000 videos that were sent in worldwide, I’m emotional talking about it,” Miller said from Orlando. “I’m happy. I’m elated. I’ve cried. I’ve celebrated.”

“When you’re 13 years in comedy, you’re at that point like, ‘Where do I go now? Do I start doing corporate? Do I start doing cruise ships? Do I need to move to L.A.?’ ” Miller said. “You’re just trying to figure out what you want to do.”

For his prize, Miller won $1,000. Next year, he will head to Los Angeles for three days, meet Harvey and a talent agent, and perform at clubs there.

There’s also talk of a world tour with Miller and the top five comedians from the Steve Harvey Standup Spotlight, Miller said.

“I hope a lot more bookings come,” he said.

Miller lives in Orlando with his wife, La Shawn Miller, son Kenneth Miller Jr., 19, and daughter, Jasia Miller, 14.

But the family of his younger years all lives in Greensboro.

That’s where he was born, the son of Barbara Jean Sanders and Charlie McAdoo. He goes by his mother’s maiden name.

His birth mother died when he was young, and aunt Ruthie Mae Brown took in Miller and his younger brother.

That made him No. 8 among 11 children who considered each other as siblings. To him, Brown became Momma.

Growing up in Hampton Homes, he attended Morehead, Jones and Wiley elementary schools, Jackson Middle School and Grimsley High School.

“I was a funny kid,” Miller recalled. “When you grow up poor, you kind of have to find stuff to make you laugh. I used to get picked on a lot as a kid. So I would pick on myself before anybody else could pick on me. And it just turned into funny.”

After graduation in 1995, he followed his father and grandfather into the military and headed straight to the U.S. Army.

He left the Army after nine years, moved to Florida and went to work for what is now Sprint.

A friend persuaded him to try open mic night at a comedy club.

“I always wanted to be a comedian,” Miller said. “I just had to get that nerve to get on stage. The hardest part of standup is getting over the fear of talking in front of a group of strangers.”

In 2013, Miller won the Florida’s Funniest Comedy Competition, beating out more than 200 comics.

“I can do a family-friendly show and I can also do an adult show,” Miller said. “I’ve done shows for churches. I’ve done shows for colleges. I’ve done shows in comedy clubs. I’ve done corporate events, so I’m able to bounce around when it comes to the style.”

He often draws material from his children.

The five-minute clip of the comedy club video that he submitted for the Steve Harvey Standup Spotlight includes a bit on the Tooth Fairy.

“The Tooth Fairy’s a ripoff,” Miller tells his audience. “You tell me I’ve got to give you money for something you’re supposed to lose? You see that brother right there? He lost all his hair and nobody gave him a damn dime.”

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That video had to be clean, so a friend of Miller’s bleeped out a few curse words.

The video made it to the next round. Miller encouraged his friends to vote daily.

But ultimately, Harvey made the choice.

Ruthie Mae Brown said she and other family members and friends are so proud.

She had seen Miller perform in Greensboro and High Point.

“I always knew he would make it,” Brown said.

As much as he loves working for Sprint, Miller hopes to eventually do standup full-time. He wants to go to Los Angeles, sign with an agency, and try to get on TV and commercials.

He’s writing a book of comedy stories that he hopes to have published.

But for now, he’ll soon head to perform in Syracuse, N.Y., one of the country’s snowiest cities.

“Every time that booker sends me there, it snows,” Miller said, laughing. “He must not know I’m from the South.”

From googly eyes to canned goods, nonprofits share their wish lists

Need knows no season, of course, but what better time to share the needs of local nonprofit organizations than the holiday season?

Those needs range from quirky to practical — googly eyes, Women’s March protest signs, desks, robotics kits, diapers.

We invited local nonprofits to share their wish lists, and many are seeking canned foods, socks, hats, gloves, cash donations and gift cards.

Got a file cabinet to share? The Creative Aging Network-NC, Safe Zone High Point, Shepherd’s Center of Greensboro and The100Degrees Organization all need at least one.

How about children’s books? The nonprofits seeking those include BackPack Beginnings, Books for Birthdays, Family Service of the Piedmont and Family Support Network of Central Carolina.

It’s a good time to give, too. Tuesday is Giving Tuesday, a global day devoted to helping charities that has been celebrated the week after Thanksgiving since 2012.

Giving Tuesday follows the commercially focused Black Friday and Cyber Monday and shifts attention to those in need.

See what need you can meet from our list on page A8 and at greensboro.com.