Kiara Beckham’s dream is to work in a career where she can improve the prospects for women’s health. For her senior project at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, she got to witness people on the frontlines of that work, while she volunteered for three weeks at the High Risk Perinatal Unit and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.

This fall, the member of the class of 2018 at Holy Cross will be attending Union College in Schenectady, New York – one of the top five STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) colleges for women – on an academic scholarship.

Reflecting on her senior project, she said, “I’m going to school for biomedical engineering, and I want to work in women’s health. That’s why I gravitated to this opportunity, to understand what doctors and nurses go through and what’s demanded of them during the day.”

She said the example of the doctors and nurses doing that work at Holy Cross Hospital taught her, “You have to remain levelheaded and do the job to the best of your ability.”

Beckham expressed admiration for the dedication, diligence and patience of the doctors and nurses serving parents and babies in those emotional and difficult situations. “They really want the best for the baby and mother and dad,” she said.

She also praised the parents, who have to endure situations like seeing their prematurely born babies hooked up to oxygen and feeding tubes. “Their strength is really inspiring,” Beckham said.

And she gained affection for the babies being cared for, some of whom weighed a little more than a pound. “They’re absolutely adorable,” she said, adding that she prayed for the babies and talked to them.

Issues like the high maternal death rates in developing countries, and that problem in the United States, drew her to want to make improving women’s health her life’s work, she said, adding that one of “the biggest killers for women worldwide is childbirth… What I heard about it resonated with me.”

For a required research project at the Academy of the Holy Cross, she surveyed about 250 students, analyzing their perceived stress and how that might relate to physical symptoms like headaches.

Beckham, the daughter of Harvey and Bianca Beckham of Silver Spring, has two younger sisters – Kailee, who is completing her sophomore year at St. John’s College High School in Washington, and Kinsley, a third grader.

A member of 19th Street Baptist Church in Washington, Beckham said she enjoyed attending Holy Cross, an all-girls Catholic high school sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. She said after attending a coed public school, she was nervous at first about going to an all-girls school, but “this opportunity has led me to make a community of friends. We’re really, really close.”

Beckham said it has also been empowering to see the young women at Holy Cross take student leadership roles and share their experiences and thoughts in class. “I love being around really intelligent, empowered women,” she said. “…This school has given me a lot of confidence. The community wants the best for you. What you have to say is important, and say it with conviction.”

At Holy Cross, she played forward on the basketball team and competed in golf. Her community service there included helping second graders with homework and visiting a local nursing home. Her favorite classes at Holy Cross were honors biology and two years of biology in the International Baccalaureate program.

“Studying something so intricate and detailed, studying life and organisms, everything just works out so perfectly. That drove me toward it,” she said, explaining what she enjoyed most about studying biology.

Beckham also plans to study Spanish at Union College. She learned Spanish from the time she attended Montessori preschool. The majority of patients that she met at Holy Cross Hospital were Spanish speakers, and she could communicate with them.

Some day, Beckham hopes to work in the women’s health field, possibly in a Spanish-speaking country. “If I leave this Earth improving women’s lives and education and health care, I will leave this Earth happy,” she said.