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Girls Do Hack Mentor Perspective

A little while back, on the 9th of November, I was fortunate to attend a day-long event called Girls Do Hack at Adler Planetarium. This event was sponsored by Teza, as a part of our wider philanthropic effort in the field of education. Even though I had heard about the event because Teza was the presenting sponsor, I honestly would have signed up even if it was not a Teza event. The energy and enthusiasm of the girls was infectious and we all need to remember that feeling every once in a while. Since I felt like I benefited from attending it, I thought I would share a few details of my experience.

High school students sketching out their prototypes that were built using 3D printers.

High school students sketching out their prototypes that were built using 3D printers.

The objective behind organizing the event was to promote STEM skills among high school girls by exposing them to various different fun and interesting applications of STEM skills. We worked in groups that included other girls and "mentors" who were professionals practicing those skills in the workplace (so you see where I fit into this picture).

Misha Malyshev, CEO of Teza, addresses high school students during Girls Do Hack 2013.

Misha Malyshev, CEO of Teza, addresses high school students during Girls Do Hack 2013.

The day started with some speeches (and I was fascinated to know that Misha Malyshev, Teza’s CEO, tells his daughter physics fairy tales and now physics is her favorite subject!), but before long, I found myself in a team of four that included two high school students and another female software engineer. We did many hands-on activities throughout the day that touched on different aspects of STEM while giving the girls an opportunity to build things in a team. Below is a summary of the Girls Do Hack highlights:

- One activity was to design a prototype to be built using a 3D printer and I was impressed with how insightful many of their comments were. They commented on how tricky it can be to work well in a team, to design something under a lot of resource/logistical constraints and to be able to express your individuality in the work that you do.

- Then there was an activity to build a "circuit monster," which involved first building the "monster" by using a chemical reaction between two reagents and then adding some "twinkling eyes" to the monster by building a circuit with some LEDs, resistors and batteries. There was soldering involved and much fun to be had.

- We did another kind of "hacking" as well, when we attended a lock-picking session (crazy!). Turns out, picking at least basic locks is not that hard if you have the right tools.

- Finally, the girls were excited to program an app for a mobile phone. They were walked through a basic lesson, and after that the girls gave their own "flair" to the final apps that they created. (We used the App Inventor toolkit, which uses a drag and drop and block based approach to programming, which I thought was pretty neat.)

At the group share-out session at the end of the day, the high school students shared how much they enjoyed doing some of these things and how surprisingly easy some of them seemed. It is indeed hard to quantify the exact impact of some of these events in concrete terms but as a participant, I felt that I came out of the sessions with the following lessons:

- a renewed respect for the creativity, energy, and unique perspectives of the students, and, 

- a re-affirmed faith in the power of STEM skills to be an empowering tool-set in the repertoire of all individuals, whether they end up pursuing these fields professionally or not.

Thanks again to Adler Planetarium and Teza for making this important program possible.

Written by Isha Somani, Girls Do Hack 2013 mentor and Software Engineer at Teza.

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