Don’t be fooled by the recent spate of organizations that have popped up to get girls more interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. The U.S. has big structural problems that are preventing the large number of talented young girls from becoming scientists and engineers. That much was immediately clear to Tara Chklovski when she immigrated from India at age 21. Chklovski came to the U.S. wanting to be a pilot or aerospace engineer, but quickly found that women aren’t as excited about STEM careers as they are in India. "It’s more culturally accepted to have shopping as a hobby than to have tinkering as a hobby," she says.
So in 2006, Chklovski started Iridescent, a science and engineering education non-profit. Earlier this month, Iridescent announced the winner of its four-year-old, $10,000 Technovation Challenge, a 12-week competition for middle and high school girls. This year, the entrants were asked to come up with an app that "solves a problem in their local community."
The teams this year came from all over the world. One team from the Colégio Universitas school in Brazil came up with an app that helps nonprofits connect with volunteers; another from Nigeria makes it easy for officials to keep track of traffic violations. But the vast majority of the finalists (there were 114 teams and 600 girls that entered in total) came from the U.S.
The winning team, a group of six girls from New York City’s Nightingale-Bamford School, came up with an Android app called "Arrive" that lets students check into school when they arrive—kind of like a Foursquare for school attendance. You can see their pitch in the video below.
It’s a smart idea, but it might have some trouble gaining ground since not every student has a smartphone. Nonetheless, the app could be used as an option in addition to traditional check-in systems like ID cards.
In the end, Chklovski hopes that Technovation Challenge participants take their experiences and run with them. "We have been keeping in touch with students, and a small percentage have been going into computer science degrees. We have to change the messaging. We want students to not think of it as a one-time competition," she says.