Young girls code their way to find solutions to society’s pressing problems including hurricane detection, forest fires, recycling, carbon emission and in the process learn to enjoy and embrace technology.
It is not unusual for tech CEOs and the tech industry to point out to the lack of more senior women leaders and CEOs in the tech industry. But what action is taken to engage young girls and women at the crucial phases of their academic and career crossroads to woo them into the tech world? Here is one bottom-up approach.
On Saturday, September 21st, a hackathon was organized for high school girls by MetroHacks, at the Microsoft offices in Reston, VA, and Alpharetta in Atlanta devoted to bringing more female high school students into STEM fields. The MetroHacks Women III hackathon focus was on empowering girls in computer science and other STEM-related fields. High-school-aged directors from MetroHacks chapters in Washington DC and Atlanta started assemblingto deliver a new experience to more than a hundred high school girls in both cities. MetroHacks chapters’ directors had been working hard over the summer months in planning and preparing a hackathon.
During the 12 hour event, where-in, over 100 high school girls, ages 13-18, gathered to think about pressing social, environmental, and health issues that our society is facing at present. Hackathon participants took their initial step to use the power of software coding and technology to address these problems in their own creative way. In the process, students explored new technologies, made friends, learned to work with mentors, had an informal time with speakers, software engineering professionals, and Microsoft architects to collaborate and create projects to compete for prizes. This event certainly inspired girls to think how computer science can serve as a tool to solve any problem they wanted to work on, expanding the opportunities in their futures.
Throughout the day, workshop hosts conducted many different workshops on Coding Fundamentals, Website Building with HTML & CSS, Azure Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence/Bots IOT, Logic Apps, Entrepreneurship, etc. The goal was to motivate more girls to pursue computer science and take their ideas to the next level.
The day culminated with students presenting their projects to a panel of judges for each track, explaining the issue and proposed solutions. There was high praise from the judges on the quality of the projects and the imagination used by the students in solving the most challenging problems. Though the winning solutions were exceptional, each participant displayed an interest in explaining an issue and used creativity and technology to design a solution.
In Washington DC, students took on a wide range of challenging problems including hurricane detection, real-time recycling sorting, forest fire detection, bots for mental health, to name a few. Winners from each track competed for the MetroHacks grand prize. MetroHacks’ 2019 grand prize winner, Team SheSparkz, developed an app that used machine learning to analyze CO2 and humidity data for predicting the likelihood of wildfires. They also built an app to enable this prediction at any location and to alert surrounding citizens of the risk. Student participants found this hands-on experience to be very highly rewarding.
One of the judges, Lulushi said, “It was a wonderful opportunity to help, and learn from, such a talented, brilliant and inspirational group of young kids. I had a wonderful time and still can’t believe the innovative and creative ideas some of the teams came up with. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of those things show up on the app store!”
Washington DC MetroHacks Directors included Anusha Rao, Disha Adapa, Paurav Kananur, Shloka Adapa, and Vishnu Kumar.
In Atlanta, the hackers chose to tackle difficult, complex issues, including poverty, carbon emission, and food allergies recognition. After 6+ hours of hacking, teams were given 3 minutes to present their solution to a panel of judges; prizes were awarded to the top 3 teams under each topic, in addition to awarding a grand prize winner. The winning presentation was a prototype for a mobile app that provided the ability for a user to identify food allergens without reading a label. To use the app a person would first input all of his/her food allergies in a profile, then anytime the user wanted to check a food label for potential allergens they would take a picture of the label using the app. Based upon the user profile and the ingredient label photo, the app would trigger an alert to warn of allergens or indicate the food was allergen-free
“I was impressed at the level of engagement and passion demonstrated by the hackers at the event. When the event concluded, I left the event feeling optimistic about the future of data science and analytics and inspired to continue to find innovative solutions within CONA”, says Kelly Linz, a Data Scientist from CONA Services who attended the event as a Judge.
One of the responses from an Atlanta Hackathon participant “A huge thank you to the MetroHacks team for hosting this amazing event and encouraging girls to learn about the field of Computer Science. It is an amazing opportunity for everyone to learn more about this diverse field!”
Atlanta MetroHacks Directors were Krushna Malapati, Vishruth Madhu, Adhrija Anbu, Amit Balaji, Tejas Veedhulur and Hansika Nanduri
A decade or two from now, it won’t be a surprise if some of these young women will be leading the next trillion dollar company or driving the new unicorns of the tech universe.