Hi there! My name is Pooja Chandrashekar and I’m currently a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia as well as the founder and CEO of ProjectCSGIRLS ProjectCSGIRLS is a national youth-driven nonprofit working to close to tech gender gap through running a national computer science competition for middle school girls and workshops around the country. In the hope of inspiring other young people to initiate projects towards a cause that matters to them, I wanted to share my own story.
I believe that empowering girls to develop into innovative and creative women will help define the future and that by nurturing their interests in STEM during the critical middle school period, we can help them better see themselves as the leaders of tomorrow. I founded ProjectCSGIRLS two summers ago as a response to the gender gap that has been glaringly noticeable throughout my middle and high school years.
ProjectCSGIRLS is a national initiative meant to encourage girls in technology and computer science through a hands-on competition that challenges middle school girls to come up with novel solutions to imminent social problems. Participants can build, code, or prototype their projects and must address one of three themes: global health, security, or intelligent technology. They are then required to submit a technical report of their project components and results, as well as a video describing why their product is innovative and useful. Registration for the 2015 ProjectCSGIRLS competition closes February 15th, 2015, but if participants want to request a mentor they must register by February 1st, 2015. Further details regarding the competition can be found on our website.
From creating the ProjectCSGIRLS website, to emailing companies asking for support, to emailing teachers and principals, I can only say that founding ProjectCSGIRLS was quite the experience. But as challenging as it was, I can definitively say that it was the highlight of my high school career. It was how I figured out that I could really make a difference in an issue I cared deeply about and how much of an impact my ideas could have. Hours upon hours went into making it a reality, but every minute was worth more than its weight in the end. I am so passionate about increasing female representation in the technical fields because of my own love for computer science and technology, and the number of times I felt discouraged and out of place during middle school about entering such a male-dominated field. Through my work, I hope to better spread awareness for the essential need of more women in technology and computer science as well as inspire more girls to discover a love for computer science and STEM and confidently pursue these fields.
Last year, ProjectCSGIRLS held its inaugural competition for girls in VA, MD, and DC only, reaching over 100 girls, and received an extremely positive response from middle schools and computer science professionals. I also communicated the importance of encouraging girls in technology with every middle school in my county, as well as in my school and community. The 2014 awards gala showcased and recognized the students’ work, honored the winners, featured guest speakers, and had over 130 people attending the event. The projects we saw were incredible, ranging from machine learning algorithms for lip detection in veterans to cybersecurity genetic algorithms, and showed us how powerful this initiative was in helping the girls involved see the opportunities and potential in technology and computer science. We also received support from corporate sponsors iStrategyLabs, George Mason University, and the Thiel Fellowship.
After the success of the program last year, I decided to scale up the initiative to a national scale this year. I am excited to see how many we will reach this year on a national scale and hope to reach hundreds of girls across the country to show them how powerful their ideas can be. I now lead Executive and Outreach Teams of over 50 high school and college students from around the country, many of whom are also NCWIT winners. We will be selecting finalists, state winners, regional winners, and national winners as well as inviting regional winners to our national gala in Washington DC in June of 2015. The national gala event will be a celebration of girls in computing, a platform to honor the winners, and a forum to discuss the importance of women in technology. In this two-day event, state and regional winners will interact and network with leaders in technology, tour top tech companies and startups in the DC area, and participate in a formal awards ceremony recognizing them and announcing the national winners. The event will feature guest speakers, tours, and activities and will open the girls' eyes to technology and computer science, showing them how exciting these fields are. They will also get the opportunity to showcase their projects to the public during the event. In the near future, my plan for ProjectCSGIRLS is for the organization to become a national leader in creating a platform to encourage middle school girls in computer science and technology.
As a result of my work with ProjectCSGIRLS, I have had the honor of being selected as a 2014 NCWIT National Winner and as a 2014 Stanford She++ #Include Fellow. I’ve been invited to the White House to represent ProjectCSGIRLS at the Computer Science Education Week Event and to Las Vegas for the Thiel Foundation Summit. I’ve also had the chance to speak about the underrepresentation of women in technology and my outreach work at events such as the IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference, the O’Reilly Velocity New York Conference, and the Global Tech Women Voices Conference.
If you have any questions regarding the ProjectCSGIRLS Competition for Middle School Girls or would like to help us spread the word, send me a quick note at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Note: Pooja Chandrashekar is a member of Global Tech Leaders and will be speaking at this years Voices Conference with Shreya Shankar on "Empowering Middle School Girls to Change the World Using Computer Science and Technology".