How to Motivate Girls to Become Innovators



Friday Coffee Meetup:  Jan 13, 2017

Presented by Amy Hee Kim, PhD

Blog Writeup by Jan Young

You can listen to the podcast here.

Amy Hee Kim, PhD, is the Sr Director of Corporate Partnership at Iridescent, a science and engineering non-profit with the mission to empower the world’s underrepresented young people, especially girls, through engineering and technology, to become innovators and leaders. Iridescent focuses on girls and minorities because they are the least likely to major in STEM and go into high paying STEM careers. Why is diversity so important? Simply put, when there’s a lack of diversity, the products that are created only meet the needs of a subset of our community—many problems are left unsolved or do not meet the needs of the whole community. Diverse groups are better at problem solving.

Dr Kim connected with the founder of Iridescent, Tara Chklovski, when they crossed paths at USC. Ms Chklovski was volunteering in the local Los Angeles schools when she was struck by how few children had ever met a scientist or engineer, and how great the need was to make the sciences and technology relatable to the kids if they were going to consider studying STEM subjects. She wanted to do something different than tutor kids for their math test. She wanted to create a technology and entrepreneurship program to motivate girls and minorities from underserved communities to become innovators.  So in 2006 Ms Chklovski left her PhD program in aerospace engineering at USC and started her journey. Iridescent has since grown to a global community of over 3,500 mentors and more than 63,000 participants in 87 countries through its flagship mentorship programs: Technovation and Curiosity Machine.

Dr Kim spoke to FCM about how they can get involved locally by volunteering as mentors in the Technovation program. Technovation is a technology entrepreneurship program for teams of middle and high school girls. During a 12-week program, girls learn to brainstorm and research ideas, develop and pitch a business plan, and create a mobile app solution to address a local issue in their community. The all-girl teams participate in local community and regional pitch events, leading to a world pitch event each August in San Francisco.

Entrepreneurs mentor teams of girls through four stages of launching a mobile app startup, inspired by the principles of design thinking:

  • Ideation – Identifying a problem in their community
  • Technology – Learning to code and developing the mobile app solution
  • Entrepreneurship – Building a realistic business plan to take the solution to market
  • Pitch – Competing for the opportunity for $10k prize and help bringing their app and their business to market

Technovation is about impact. Iridescent has partnered the Technovation program with the United Nations, UN Women, UNESCO, and the Peace Corps. One team of girls developed an app to identify safe drinking water wells free from heavy metal contaminants in Moldova (once part of the former Soviet Union). Another team in New York City developed an app that kids could use to let their parents know when they have arrived safely at school and back home—they sold it to the New York Department of Education and it’s in use today.

Impacting Students: After participating in the program, 78% of students were more interested in Computer Science, 58% pursue further study, 26% major in STEM (notably, 65X the national rate of 0.4% of female college students majoring in CS). 70% of the students were more interested in Entrepreneurship, and 67% were more interested in Business Leadership.

Impacting Mentors:  Mentors are positively impacted too. 58% of the mentors increased their technical skills, 67% increased their knowledge about entrepreneurship, and 70% learned more skills to be effective mentors. 90% of the mentors feel like they are impacting more women to join the STEM pipeline.

The FCM entrepreneurs are a natural fit to become Technovation mentors and regional judges, and there’s lots of opportunity for training, collaboration, and networking. Iridescent has even solved for cross-town traffic issues by setting up virtual mentorship meetings—so you can even mentor kids without driving 2+ hours! Can’t attend the regional competition in person? Be a virtual judge!  There is virtually no reason not to make a difference by getting involved in Iridescent’s Technovation program.

For more inspiration, check out the documentary “Codegirl” on Netflix which features Tara Chklovski and Iridescent—link for trailer: And for more information on how you can get involved, go to /programs/technovation/.


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