Go, Girl!

Technovation Challenge inspires pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Tara Chklovski of IridescentTara Chklovski wants girls to have the confidence that they can innovate and create. “And, in this context, it all starts with looking at the phone in their pocket and realizing they can build something – an app – to make a real difference in their community,” says Tara (pictured). She is the CEO and Founder of Iridescent, a non-profit that runs global programs to inspire young learners in the pursuit of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Since 2006, Iridescent has implemented a scalable model of science and technology exploration that has helped more than 17,000 underserved families through mentorship and hands-on programs with a team of more than 400 engineers and scientists. “It’s also important that girls from different walks-of-life around the world are perceived as capable and having an important perspective to share. Their voices matter and are needed in the fields of engineering and invention.”

Victor: What is the Technovation Challenge? 

Tara: Technovation Challenge is the largest and longest-running global technology competition exclusively for girls to inspire the pursuit of education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The 2013 Technovation Challenge Technovation Challenge event is the culmination of a 12-week competition amongst middle and high school girls and attracted 115 teams, 600 girls from 25 states and countries who have coded mobile applications to solve a problem in their local communities. The winning team receives $10,000 in seed funding to help bring their app to market.

Victor: How did it get started? 

Tara: Technovation Challenge was started by Anu Tewary, she is a friend (here is a video of her talking about her path in tech and how she came up with the idea). It was after startup weekend. she decided that it would be great to do the same – for girls. She knew me, and Iridescent, and asked if I would like to be a part. It completely aligned with our mission and that’s how it started. She took a 3-month sabbatical from admob to run the first pilot and then we took over.

Victor: What is your STEM program based on?

Tara: The curriculum is based on the MIT App Inventor program and The Lean Startup methodology for entrepreneurs. The 12-week competition includes a Hack Day kick-off event, during which the students are introduced to computer programming of mobile games. Throughout the 12 weeks, teams meet directly with their mentors and participate in guided learning through P2PU courses. Students learn product ideation, market research, product development and planning, coding and marketing their app.

Victor: How many girls have participated? 

Tara: Since its launch in 2010, almost 3,000 girls have participated in the event.

Victor: Who are the mentors? 

Tara: We have more than 400 mentors from leading technology companies including, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Intel, Adobe, DropBox andTwitter have been supportive of Technovation Challenge and participated in Iridescent mentoring programs. Iridescent will look to its tech partners for additional financial and social resources for the coming events.

Victor: How do you motivate girls to join the program?

Tara: We reach out to principals, guidance counselors, and computer science/STEM high school teachers, including heads of the Computer Science Teacher Association. We post information on our website and websites such as GothamSchools. We reach out to women at technology companies such as LinkedIn and Google. We partner with like-minded organizations such as CodeSavvy, Girls Tech League, CoderDojo, and YMCAs. We present at education and industry conferences.

Victor: What kind of apps do they develop? 

Tara: We are focused on mobile apps because many developing countries do not have the access to computers as students do in the U.S.  This years Technovation Challenge was to create a mobile app that solves a problem in their local community.

Victor: Who are the finalists this year?  

Tara: This year the top ten finalists came from San Francisco, Boston, NY, Washington, D.C., Houston and Brazil, United Kingdom and Nigeria.

Victor: Who judges the apps for the funding prize?

Tara: This year judges included the following:

Carolyn Van Damme, Director of STEM Education for the Office of Naval Research

Melissa Bradley, CEO of Tides Foundation

Dr. Maggie Johnson, Director of Education and University Relations for Google

Ruchi Sanghvi, Vice President of Operations for Dropbox

Dr. Freada Kapor Klein, Founder of Level Playing Field Institute

Dr. Joseph Cohn, Deputy Director of Research, STEM, Office of Naval Research

Victor: How does this represent the future?

Tara: Women and girls are an underutilized and underserved minority in technology and engineering jobs. There are many initiatives in the private and public sector that are focused on engaging young girls to take an interest in STEM in order to break through the glass ceiling and into the boardroom.

Victor: How does this relate to technology transforming education?

Tara: There are two thoughts here: 1) technology is a power amplifier. Anyone who wants to have huge impact needs to know how to leverage technology to do innovative things (much more with much less). 2) All science is computer science. Programming, coding, familiarity with technology is a key requisite for any creator, inventor, scientist or engineer. Hence, technology education needs to be a critical component of any child’s education or it needs to be deeply integrated into every traditional subject — not just as a tool such as the use of an iPad, but using technology to create, i.e., to learn how to program.

Victor: What is your outlook on technology in education over the next few years? 

Tara: I believe all science is computer science. programming, coding, familiarity with technology is a key requisite for any creator, inventor, scientist or engineer. Hence, technology education needs to be a critical component of any child’s education or it needs to be deeply integrated into every traditional subject — not just as a tool such as the use of an iPad, but using technology to create i.e. to learn how to program. 

Victor: Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning the Challenge or anything else in terms of education and the future? 

Tara: The problem is hard when you deal with people. Networked effects are the way to grow — but one girl at a time. This is an interesting blog post that echoes what I was trying to say — so much hot air around the Lean In movement, but I’m not sure what is new or different or concrete coming out of it. 

Victor: Thanks, Tara!

Tara: Thank you, Victor.

Victor Rivero is the editor in chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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