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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Falls City girl is finalist in national Doodle 4 Google competition

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Andrea Woodruff has pulled herself together now. But when she first got the news that she was one of 40 finalists in the Doodle 4 Google competition, "I was so happy, I almost felt like I was going to faint."

After all, the 16-year-old from tiny Falls City was one of more than 33,000 students across the country to enter the contest. And she was one of 10 students in her category -- grades 10 through 12 -- who made it to the finals.

"At first I thought they were kidding," says Andrea, who found out about two weeks ago. She celebrated with friends at Paula's Kitchen & Custom Catering, the only restaurant in Falls City.

Students across the U.S. in kindergarten through 12th grade were invited to enter the annual contest, to create an image inspired by the theme "If I Could Do Anything, I Would ..." All 40 finalists will receive a trip -- accompanied by a parent -- to New York for Wednesday's ceremony announcing the winner.

Andrea Woodruff, right, shares her sketch book with Myra Kromer, her kindergarten and first grade teacher, before an assembly acknowledging Woodruff by Google.

The 40 finalists will also visit the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, where the students' work will be exhibited through July 8. The winner will receive a $15,000 college scholarship and a $25,000 grant for his or her current school.

But all of this is still a few days away when Andrea and her family gather for an assembly in the Falls City High School gym last Tuesday. Google sent representatives to all 40 finalists' schools on that same day -- including Oregon's Rock Creek Elementary School, where first-grader Vicky Patricia Siah was a finalist in the kindergarten through third-grade category.

Rich Godwin and Dennis Domingo came to Falls City from "the Googleplex," as Godwin put it, in Mountain View, Calif., for the assembly. The Doodle 4 Google competition grew out of the Google tradition of featuring whimsical drawings on its homepage logo to mark holidays and notable events. This is the third U.S. Doodle 4 Google (more than 15 countries have also participated).

Before the assembly, Andrea sits in the front row, wearing a T-shirt with her design. When she considered the theme, "If I Could Do Anything, I Would ...," Andrea drew on her desire to publish a book. Her design, "The Magic in a Book," features an open book, out of which fairy-tale characters take flight. "I love to write and draw," Andrea says. Her doodle includes a crimson dragon wrapping its tail around a red "g" in the Google logo, a princess sitting on one "o", a witch flying on a broom and a rabbit watering a huge mushroom.

Her father, Doug, says when he first saw Andrea's design, he said, "What is the rabbit doing to the mushroom? I thought he was chain-sawing it."

Doug Woodruff, 48, says his daughters -- Andrea and her twin sister, Amber, who also entered the Doodle 4 Google contest -- have drawn pictures as long as he can remember. "When they were 2 or 3, I'd buy them a pack of copier paper every payday," he says, "and they'd sit there and draw pictures."

Seeing Andrea's work recognized is especially exciting, Doug says, because his hometown of Falls City is so low-profile. Falls City is west of Salem, tucked into an out-of-the-way corner of Polk County. The nearest town of any size is Dallas, about 10 miles away.

"Many people haven't heard of Falls City, because it's kind of a little hole in the wall," Doug says. "They say we have about 1,000 people. We used to have a gas station, but we don't anymore. We have a grocery store, and a bar, and now we've got a restaurant. But that's about it."

Falls City is literally "the end of the road," Doug says. "There used to be a little community about 16 miles up the road called Valsetz." It was a company-owned sawmill and logging town, and was abandoned by Boise Cascade Corp. in 1984. Now, there are just gravel roads beyond Falls City, Doug says. He started working in sawmills in the area about the time Valsetz closed, he recalls. For the past several years, he has worked as a commercial plumber, though he was laid off in February when work slowed. But his company tells him they should be getting him back to work soon, he says.

In the meantime, Doug will travel with Andrea to New York. She has never been out of Oregon or flown on a plane. Doug has been to New York state, but never to New York City. "Our time there is going to be pretty limited because we're kind of on Google's schedule," he says. "But we're hoping that maybe we could go see the Statue of Liberty, or go up to the top of the Empire State Building."

As the gym fills with students of all ages -- all sporting Google T-shirts provided by the company -- Andrea opens one of her sketchbooks. Both she and Amber love to draw figures in the style of Japanese manga. Andrea also has a copy of her novel in progress. "I'd love to get it published," she says. She has a title: "Eye of the Harpy." It's a fantasy tale about the relationship between a human princess and a harpy, a "half-bird, half-man," Andrea says. A creature with origins in mythology, the winged harpy is, as Andrea has drawn him, very handsome. "You don't hear many stories about that, that's why I came up with the idea," she says. "All you hear about are vampires."

The assembly starts, and Godwin and Domingo encourage everyone to go online and vote for Andrea's drawing. From the four national finalists selected by the public, Google will choose one national winner.

"This is a big deal, it really is," says Godwin, adding that the winner's drawing will be seen by an enormous number of people. "There are a billion searches on Google done every day."

Godwin and Domingo demonstrate how students and teachers can use Google search functions. Then they reveal a surprise -- a huge reproduction of Andrea's doodle.

It ends in a flurry of picture-taking, as Andrea poses with her family, teachers, school Principal Sid Hobgood, the Google reps and assorted other well-wishers.

Andrea has a big smile on her face. "I can't wait to go to New York," she says. "I never even thought I would get this far."

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