It’s a natural assumption that those who create the latest technology in the world are engineering wunderkinds. The founders behind the successful tech start-ups that hit the news tend to be in their 20s or 30s, have attended a top university, have an impressive coding or other kind of engineering background and are majority male. Exceptions tend to come from a strong business operations of sales background. But one uplifting recent example demonstrates that with a dash of determination, motivation, innovation and perseverance, that needn’t be the case.
Every year, MIT runs the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, a programme to encourage youngsters who have technology-based inventions healthcare, transport, food & agriculture or consumer devices. The top inventions are awarded a grant of up to $15,000 (£11, 570) to be put towards their further development. This year, a group of 12 high school students, all girls from low income families and part of DIY Girls, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes female pupils and students from economically struggling communities saw their invention rewarded with a $10,000 grant from the programme.
The teen girls, none of whom had any engineering education, or any of the other technical skills they needed such as coding, sewing and soldering, when they started working on their invention, won the grant with a solar powered tent. They hope their invention, which folds into a backpack, will make life more comfortable for the growing number of homeless individuals in Los Angeles, where their San Fernando High School is located.
The group, most of whom didn’t know each other when they first began work on the project, was recruited by DIY Girls executive director Evelyn Gomez, 29, and herself a former pupil of the school. She is an aerospace engineering masters graduate but as both a student and professional became accustomed to being the only woman, or at least the only woman of Latina background, in her education or work environment. She founded DIY Girls in 2012 in the hope of making a small contribution to addressing a chronic lack of hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education in school – a situation especially bad in low income communities such as the one San Fernando High is located in.
Evelyn initially guided the team but they were very quick in finding their own feet and figuring things out under their own initiative. YouTube and Google research helped them solve problems with their solar panels or stitching patterns to ensure their tent was sturdy, durable and waterproof. Let’s face it, how many of you highly paid coders reading this don’t use online resources in almost exactly the same way every single day!?
While the girls’ solar powered tent might not be an example of the absolute newest technology in the world, it certainly involved sometimes complicated design and integration using technology and improved on what was already on the market. So if 12 teen girls from an economically underprivileged area of L.A. with zero engineering background can come up with a technology-based invention good enough to secure a $10,000 grant from MIT, one of the world’s most renowned technology education and research institutions, what’s holding you back?