Doodle for Google puts girl in scholarship final

At Chestnut Ridge Middle School in Washington Township, seventh grader Maria Iannone, with her winning Google doodle on display, is congratulated by vice principal Sheryl Lean. She could win a $30,000 college scholarship.
At Chestnut Ridge Middle School in Washington Township, seventh grader Maria Iannone, with her winning Google doodle on display, is congratulated by vice principal Sheryl Lean. She could win a $30,000 college scholarship. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 03, 2013

Forget the crayons, paintbrushes, and colored pencils. The path to becoming an accomplished artist - or at least to a $30,000 college scholarship - is now etched on a tablet.

That's what 12-year-old Maria Iannone, a seventh grader at Chestnut Ridge Middle School in Washington Township, used for her entry in Google's nationwide K-12 "Doodle 4 Google" contest. This year's theme: "My Best Day Ever."

Her doodle shows the silhouette of a person using a telescope to gaze at a yellow half-moon. A galaxy of stars fills the purple- and blue-shaded sky in the background. She drew it in six hours.

On Wednesday, Google Inc. representatives visited the school to announce in a packed auditorium that Iannone had been selected as the competition's New Jersey finalist. Google received more than 130,000 submissions, and company officials and celebrities, including Katie Couric, whittled the field down to 50 - one from each state.

The winner, to be determined through a public vote on doodle4google.com, will receive the scholarship and a $50,000 technology grant for his or her school. The winner's artwork will also be featured on the Google.com home page on May 23, the day after the finalists gather in New York. Voting is open until May 10.

Doodles - creative changes to Google's logo, usually displayed on holidays - are a tradition. It has featured 1,500 of them since 1998, and it began the contest in 2008. But the doodles sometimes spark controversy.

On Easter, Google showed a doodle of farm labor leader Cesar Chavez, which some took as a slight to Christianity.

May 23, and Iannone's theme, may be safer choices.

"I did it because astronomy is something I really enjoy," Iannone told her peers and teachers, none of whom knew why they had been escorted away from class and into the auditorium. Only the school's top administrators knew why everyone had gathered; under orders from Google, Iannone's parents couldn't tell anyone else about the news for two weeks, because Google wanted to announce all 50 state finalists on the same day.

"I just started drawing without really thinking," said Iannone, a straight-A student who also is working toward a black belt in karate.

When Nancy Iannone received a phone call from Google with the news, "I just kept saying, 'No,' " she recalled Wednesday. "I felt like I was going to faint."

Maria Iannone takes art classes in school and attends the Kaizar School of Art in Sewell as well. Her teacher there, George Kaizar, said he was not surprised that she had been chosen as a finalist.

"A lot of the kids here, we almost know before they come in what work they're going to show us," he said. "But with Maria, she doesn't do the same thing as everybody else. She does her own thing."

If she wins, Chestnut Ridge would use the $50,000 to invest in laptops and smart boards, principal Jim Barnes said. The work of each finalist will be displayed in an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City from May 22 to July 14.

Asked about her chances, Iannone offered a diplomatic answer: "I haven't seen the other entries yet."


Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846, aseidman@phillynews.com or @AndrewSeidman on Twitter.

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