She was recognized for her efforts in promoting science and technology.
Indian Amerian teen Swetha Prabakaran was among the 11 individuals honored at the White House as “Champions of Change for Young Women Empowering Communities” on September 15.
Prabakaran was recognized by the White House for her efforts in promoting science and technology through her nonprofit named Everybody Code Now!. She founded the organization during the summer after her freshman year in 2014 to expose students, particularly girls, to computer science and engineering and to teach them how to code.
Since 2014, Everybody Code Now! has taught hundreds of students to code and has partners in 12 states and 3 countries. Through partnerships with local schools, the organization runs programs teaching basic programming skills and leadership skills.
Apart from the White House recognition, Prabakaran has also been named a 2015 Carson Scholar and #include Fellow by She++ for her work promoting Computer Science education.
Know more about the enthusiastic teen and her future plans in this interview:
Tell us about yourself:
I’m a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), Northern Virginia, with a focus on Computer Science, specifically application development. I am passionate about using technology to benefit the community but love inspiring other students to do the same.
My parents are from Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu and both have a background in software. They run a website called techfetch.com, a job portal that connects recruiters and job seekers. My younger sister, Sanjitha, is in middle school.
How and why did you develop an interest in coding? And how did the idea of starting your own company come into being?
I grew up hearing a lot of computer jargon from my parents. My computer science teacher Ria Galanos further sparked my curiosity by showing me the applications of computer science outside of the classroom. They instilled in me the confidence I needed to pursue my love for computer science, and I wanted such role models to exist for other girls, like my little sister.
The realization that most schools don’t offer any sort of computer science course further strengthened my resolve to create a program to introduce more kids to computer science. It was in that moment that my non-profit, Everybody Code Now!, was born.
Through Everybody Code Now!, I’ve been able to teach hundreds of kids to code and have helped bring more science and engineering activities to schools. I’ve seen elementary school girls who had never heard of programming blossom into confident students building websites about their favorite sports or animals and watched the quietest students become the class leaders.
How do you manage your time between running a company and studying for school?
I usually spend a few hours each day on weeks doing work related to Everybody Code Now!, but a good amount of my non-profit work happens on weekends.
I also have a large team of volunteers spread out across the country and work very closely with them to delegate work and large projects. About 99% of my team is made up of high school or college students.
What are your other interests?
I’ve been dancing Bharatanatyam since I was about 7 years old, and completed my arangetram in Tirunelveli this August. At TJ, I dance for the Classical Fusion dance team and also swim for a local swim team.
In addition to athletics, I travel and compete on the TJ Model United Nations team and am also a member of my school’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).
I love writing and self-published a novel when I was in fifth grade.
Tell us how you found out that you were one of the recipients of the Champions of Change Award.
I received a phone call one late summer afternoon from an unknown number, which my dad casually picked up. My dad was very relaxed until they said “This is White House Public Relations”.
It was such a surprise, and for a few moments I was speechless. It was a huge honor to be named as a champion and to be able to join the ranks of countless others before me who have all done incredible work to create change.
Tell us about your experience at the Award Ceremony.
It was an incredible experience to be able to go to the White House and meet the other champions, as well as high-ranking officials such as Valerie Jarrett (Senior Advisor to the President), Tina Tchen (Executive Director of the White House council on Women and Girls) and Megan Smith (United States Chief Technology Officer). Hearing their stories, as well as those of other influential women like Serena Auñon, was inspiring.
At the Award Ceremony, I also got the chance to hear Dr.Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science, speak on the importance of STEM education for girls, and also participated on a panel with other champions about leadership in our communities. I was able to make a lot of connections with STEM professionals around the country to help expand Everybody Code Now!
What is your message to other aspiring kids?
Find your passion, and never give up. It sounds cliché, but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of working hard and being determined to achieve your goals- be it in school, sports, or community service.
Tell us about your future plans.
We teach our kids the 3 R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) so that they can be successful. It’s time the fourth R joined that list: programming. My vision is to expose every student to computer science through my organization and show them that coding is fun and applicable to their daily lives.
I would like to expand Everybody Code Now! to all states in the US, as well as globally to regions where technology exposure is limited. I look forward to working with others to expand early access to technology and engineering education and also show youth that science, technology, and math are open to people of all genders and races as well.
Everybody Code Now! conducts various camps, workshops, and mentorship opportunities to students. For details, visit: everybodycodenow.org