Educating, Encouraging, and Empowering the Next Generation of STEM Leaders

By Archika Dogra, co-founder of The EduSTEM Initiative

Members from the CxE team creating BusinessParent, an application that connects new entrepreneurs with mentors and resources to help them grow.

Thirty excited, talkative middle school girls are crowded near the front of a local technical college lecture hall. It’s the final pitch day of EduSTEM Computer Science x Entrepreneurship (CxE) Camp, the day where the girls bring their best app ideas and pitch skills to the table. Over the past week, they have been learning the fundamentals of AppInventor, listening to amazing women from different industries speak, acquiring the fundamentals of business development, and developing a community of bright, motivated, and compassionate girls.

The girls proudly standing in front of their code during the app development segment on Day 2 of the camp!

Experiencing the vibrant atmosphere on pitch day took me back to Stanford AI4ALL 2017, an all-girls research program that changed my life in a very similar way. Up until then, I had never known what an inclusive environment in STEM looked like, often being the only girl in many of my STEM-related activities. When I stepped foot on the Stanford Campus, I found myself surrounded by 31 brilliant and confident young women. Together, we worked on various projects in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, shared late-night conversations, and learned about how our actions can impact the world through AI. Weeks later, I boarded a flight back to Seattle with 31 new best friends, supporters, and role models. Stanford AI4ALL changed my life, and I knew that it was time to pay this forward to other minorities in STEM, those who often feel as though their voices don’t matter.

Standing in front of an Waze test autonomous car at Stanford AI4ALL 2017 (formerly known as SAILORS).
Listening to Stanford Professor Fei-Fei Li share her journey in CS.

CxE was the second summer camp held by an international initiative I co-founded, The EduSTEM Initiative. The camp sought to explore the intersection of CS and entrepreneurship, valuing the aspect of social good that the power of code can bring to any community. The girls ended up pitching applications such as an exercise-rewarding application, a creative musical application, and a dog-walking service. Our hope wasn’t just to teach them how to code, but how they can use this knowledge to become leaders of change. One of our participants, Isabella, is now working on a mobile application that encourages political engagement among youths, a project she was inspired to start after CxE.

Ever since Stanford AI4ALL, I am constantly motivated to push the boundaries of how I can expand the impact of my organization. By the end of 2018, EduSTEM is on track to hold over 70 workshops, reaching over 500 youths in 3 countries across 9 chapters. Our chapters work with community centers in low-income areas, under-resourced schools, youth drug-rehabilitation centers, and other organizations catering to educationally underrepresented minorities. For our projects, we’ve received funding from organizations such as AI4ALL, Vital Voices, Disney, and Youth Service America. This support is a reminder that although we have a long way to go until equal representation in STEM is a reality, its achievement is truly a collective effort.

CxE participants celebrating after the pitch presentations!

I started my journey in STEM as the quiet girl in the back of the computer science classroom. However, through the support and guidance of the community I was lucky enough to find, I am now unafraid to use my voice to extend my passion for tech to those around me. In every EduSTEM participant, camper, and student, I see myself: a young, passionate individual with the potential of becoming a change maker. I truly believe that CS is not meaningful unless it is CS for ALL.

Archika speaking at the Stanford AI4ALL 2017 showcase about her group’s computer vision research project.

Archika Dogra is a junior from Bellevue, WA and is an avid advocate for increasing diversity in STEM by creating inclusive environments for underrepresented minorities. When she isn’t coding or running EduSTEM workshops, you can find her spending her weekends at debate tournaments, taking long walks, or exploring the Pacific Northwest with family and friends. Archika is a 2018 she++ fellow and a 2018 HERLead fellow - forever passionate about changing the world through the power of technology. You can learn more about her EduSTEM Initiative by visiting its Facebook, Instagram, and website.