Girls Who Code Alumna created VR experience to combat public speaking anxiety
With the support of sisterhood, there is nothing girls can’t do — like win first place at a statewide business competition!
By: Girls Who Code Alumna, Sree Dasari
Three years ago, I was sitting in my freshman civics class where the majority of my grade was dependent on my contribution to class discussion, just raising my hand during class was nerve racking. Presenting in front of the entire class was an ordeal and no amount of practice in front of friends or a mirror prepared me for the anxiousness I felt in front of a crowd of peers. Was there an efficient way to effectively prepare students like me to overcome and better handle this fear?
As I was touring Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York, they mentioned something unique and amazing about their language courses. The final exam for a student taking a French course would be them wearing a Virtual Reality headset and being placed in a local café in Paris. The student was then graded on how they interacted and communicated with the people and surroundings in that virtual environment.
A light bulb went on when I realized that virtual reality could simulate an actual environment that a student would present in. The challenge for me came when I realized there was no validation study to prove that a virtual classroom audience could simulate a real classroom audience amongst high school students. So, I conducted a study at my school, La Salle Academy, with multiple high school students that proved and validated that a virtual classroom audience will create public speaking anxiety. Afterwards, I took these results from my research to the 2018 Rhode Island Science & Engineering Fair and then got recognized by the American Psychology Association (APA) as well as the Governor of Rhode Island.
I didn’t just want to stop at the science fair with this research. I wanted to make an actual product that could help students, like me in civics class, overcome their fears of speaking in public. So, I filed a provisional utility patent and titled it “A Public Speaking Training Methodology Using Placa and Plausibility Illusion”.
Then, I made a business plan to productize a concept to effectively combat public speaking anxiety amongst high school students and also applied to the first ever Lt. Governor’s Entrepreneurship Challenge, a statewide business pitch competition for Rhode Island high school students, where the winner would receive a $4,000 check. I made it to the final round of the challenge, which was the oral presentation where I would have to present a five minute pitch to a board of executives and a huge audience.
I was at the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program at General Electric in Boston, when it was nearing the day of my pitch. Everyone in the program was so encouraging and the amount of support and encouragement that I received was the best experience by far. Before I had to pitch for the challenge, I practiced with everyone in my program in empty conference rooms during our free times. All the girls believed in me and gave me better confidence in myself which is truly an experience that I will always relish.
Pitch day finally came on Saturday, August 18th, and I won first place! I truly could not have done it without all the support from all my new friends from Girls Who Code because the amount of confidence and support they gave me was really special and one of a kind.
Sree Dasari is a student at La Salle Academy. She participated in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program in 2018 at GE in Boston.