Junior Geek of the Month: A UW student at 16, Merrill Keating leads other girls along STEM path

Merrill Keating’s long list of activities and achievements would likely make any adult wilt under the weight and commitment of it all. But the Bainbridge Island, Wash., teenager keeps charging ahead, taking on more and hoping her work forges a path for other young girls in her community.
Merrill entered the University of Washington as a 15-year-old freshman in the fall, and now at 16 she’s excited about the chance to major in mechanical engineering and artificial intelligence. Her own very real intelligence makes her GeekWire’s Junior Geek of the Month for January. The monthly honor, presented by Northern Trust, recognizes talented young innovators, creators and entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest.

Aside from the challenge of entering college at a young age, Merrill is also taking on the experience remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The transition to everything being online has definitely been more difficult because I always loved being able to go to school and interact with my classmates and teachers, and being able to sit in the classroom and learn,” Merrill said.
Accepted as part of a group of academically gifted students through the UW Academy, Merrill called the workload definitely more than she was used to when she wrapped up high school after her sophomore year, but it’s manageable. She credits organizational skills she has perfected over the years through everything she has been involved in.
“Time management and everything is definitely a huge part of that,” Merrill said. “I don’t think my age has really affected my transition into the university. I’m glad about that.”
Merrill Keating and her Spartronics teammates from Bainbridge Island, Wash., during a FIRST Robotics competition. (Photo courtesy of Merrill Keating)Merrill’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math education can be traced to the influence of her parents, IT consultant Charles Keating and business consultant Doña Keating. Merrill began mentoring at West Sound CoderDojo, launched in part by her parents, in 2015 when she was 10 years old. For five years she’s been helping adults and kids around Kitsap County learn how to code for free.
At the ages of 11 and 12, Merrill wrote and published three books. Over the next four years, she joined or started a wide range of groups, including:

Bainbridge Island Girl Up: Merrill served as founder and president of the local club of a United Nations initiative to promote gender equality and inspire youth leadership.

Reinvented Magazine: Merrill joined the operations team for the nation’s first print magazine by and for girls and women in STEM. She helped form strategic partnerships and conducted community outreach to raise awareness and increase the subscriber base, and represented the organization at GeekGirlCon in Seattle.

TEDxYouth@BainbridgeIsland: Merrill served as lead organizer for an event held at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art showcasing six young speakers who were  making a difference in their communities and beyond.

The Power of 100 Girls: Merrill founded the organization and funding circle where girls from fifth though 12th grade invest $100 annually then collectively select and award grants and scholarships to girls, women, or nonprofits that support them.

Along the way, Merrill competed in FIRST Robotics in high school (and has since joined the UW Husky Robotics team); served as a teen council member of Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network; was one of 15 students in the Bainbridge Island School District chosen to serve on the Committee for the District Improvement Plan Process; and more.
Merrill Keating, second from right back row, and other Girl Up participants meet with Washington Sen. Patty Murray, left, during a global leadership summit for the group in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Merrill Keating)Almost everything she takes on is rooted in her desire to give back to her community and help people in some way. Her desire to build machinery — whether it’s in the aerospace industry or astronautics or something else — will also tie back to helping people.
“That’s definitely been something that’s always been on my mind whenever I joined an initiative or started an organization,” she said.
And advocating for other girls and women in her community is a big part of the mission.
“Gender equality came up as an issue that I wanted to address because of the amount of times that I’ve dealt with the issue in my everyday life,” Merrill said. “Being a girl in STEM and different biases that I’ve had to deal with … I think that has definitely influenced what I do and why I want to do it so that I can set up a better pathway for future generations after me.”
Along with the academic achievements and community groups, Merrill’s Junior Geek submission notes that she has a black belt in mixed martial arts, plays violin, piano, and alto saxophone, and has been speaking Mandarin since she was 18 months old.
GeekWire asked her if she ever just likes to play video games and take naps. She laughed.
“I do like both of those,” she said. “It does sometimes still surprise me when I look back at all I’ve done. I’m like, ‘Wow, wait, I actually did that?’ It makes me feel good that I’ve been able to help out the community so much over the years and hopefully been able to impact other girls, women, and just people. I think that’s really awesome.”
Nominate a Junior Geek
GeekWire will feature a new Junior Geek of the Month in profiles meant to capture how they are looking to make a positive impact on the world through their geeky pursuits. In addition, they’ll receive special recognition from our project partner, Northern Trust.
Do you know an exceptional Junior Geek between the ages of 12 to 20 who is going to change the world? Submit a nomination.
Nominees must be residents of the Pacific Northwest, and parental information must be included for those nominees under the age of 18. Jr. Geeks may nominate themselves but please be sure to include your parent or guardian’s contact information.
Read about our previous Junior Geek of the Month winners.