Finding a like-minded community and opportunities for further education is imperative to advancing and enriching your skills. This proves difficult though for the greatly underrepresented field of talent, expertise, and career paths for women that is STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Our Do-Good Dozen winner for November noticed this imbalance not only in women, but in minority youth. Stemming (no pun intended – or is it?) from her own experience in being the only female in a classroom of 30 males interested in STEM, Archika Dogra, along with two other high-school seniors, started EduSTEM to bring education and empowerment to racial minorities and low-income students. Archika is spreading good far and wide with EduSTEM chapters expanding within the U.S. and internationally. Read on to learn more about the inspiration, internships, and non-negotiable essentials that shape who she is and where she’s going.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you live, and all that good stuff.
I’m currently 17 years old and a proud Seattle native, having spent my whole life in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. Currently, I live with my two wonderful parents and have an older sister who is studying at the University of Chicago. Some of my favorite things to do include hiking, spending time by the lake, visiting nearby islands, and drinking hot chocolate during the rainy winters. On an average school week you can probably find me debating on the weekends, coding, listening to music on long walks, or creatively writing in my free time. After graduating from high school next June, I hope to study in an interdisciplinary computer science and humanities major, work at a start-up or social impact division of a technology company, and ultimately get to travel the world!
Where and when did your interest in the tech industry and education sector begin?
Growing up, I was always surrounded by massive technology companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, and T-Mobile; all concentrated in the Greater Seattle Area. However, up until the beginning of high school, I was never really interested in tech and considered myself more of a humanities kid.
In fact, near the end of middle school I even took a shot at computer science by attending a coding class, only to find a classroom of 30 boys and a space that definitely didn’t feel like a fit for me.
The summer after my freshman year, I attended a scholarship-funded, all-girls artificial intelligence research program at Stanford University. I remember not wanting to even apply (and didn’t even think I could get in), but my family friend convinced me to after going through the program herself. It was, to say the least, a pivotal point in my life.
Over that summer, I learned about the limitless potential of technology in the spheres of social good, found a community that I was proud to be a part of, and became determined that I did in fact have a voice in tech spaces.
By the end of the program, I developed a computer vision model to aid poverty resource redistribution efforts in Uganda, made 32 lifelong friends, and left feeling more empowered than ever.
This same experience sparked my interest in educational equity. Although the program was merit-based, it found a way to bring together girls from different countries, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ethnicities. I also realized that back in Seattle, even though there were so many resources and opportunities, STEM classrooms still fostered unwelcoming environments for minorities such as women, racial minorities, and students from low income backgrounds. Stanford was the first time I witnessed the power of diversity, creativity, and learning all in one space. It gave me the idea that I could bring these kinds of spaces back to my community as well.
What was the moment you knew you wanted to start the EduSTEM Initiative and what steps did you take to get it started?
EduSTEM actually started out as a small service project in February of 2017. Along with two other girls, I began by teaching five elementary school students at a community center every Wednesday morning. We thought it was a great way to give back to our community and I absolutely adored working with kids. In any other circumstances, waking up at 5:30am would have been agonizing, but on those Wednesdays, I somehow always managed to get out of bed excited.
After my summer at Stanford, I found myself equipped with the network and resources to develop our small morning program into something much more impactful. Many of the girls at the research program were interested in creating similar outreach projects to increase the accessibility of STEM opportunities within their communities. So I thought to myself, “Hey, since I have at least 10 sessions worth of curriculum and a project to jump off from, why not start a chapter program?” In the Fall of 2017, we rolled out our chapter applications and started off with four chapters.
At first, all we had to offer through our chapter program was curriculum, a chapter guide, and training calls. However, I soon started applying for grants, attending conferences across the country, and reaching out to partners. Through these small steps, we developed a more sustainable model for our organization. For example, today we provide our chapters with over 50 modules of curriculum, micro-grant funding, training calls, logistical support, access to partners, resources for growth, and a community network of young change-makers.
Within the Seattle area alone, we’ve facilitated over 40 free workshops and 3 summer camps. During this past year, we finished up our Microsoft workshop series, held our second annual EduSTEM Girls Day, and tripled our impact through outreach and events. It’s been amazing to watch us grow from our small morning sessions to events with over 70 girls in attendance.
At this stage in our journey, EduSTEM has brought educational opportunities to 1,600+ minority youths in 16 cities and 5 countries through over free 150 programs. Our chapters in the United States, Turkey, Thailand, and Nigeria have worked with youths from 1st through 11th grade in community centers, under-resourced schools, and drug rehabilitation centers. In fact, just last month we shipped a projector to our director in Nigeria, Joseph, and they held their first engineering event in Port Harcourt, Nigeria!
I knew I wanted to grow EduSTEM the moment I saw the difference between an inclusive and non-inclusive space firsthand.
Diversity to me isn’t a quantifiable statistic, but an inexplicable feeling of acceptance and celebration, which we aim to do through every aspect of our development at EduSTEM.
You’ve had multiple internships – which was the most fun and interesting for you, and why?
Internships have definitely been the highlight of my high school experience. They’re such an amazing way to learn skills, concepts, and abilities that you hardly touch on in a traditional classroom context. While all of them have been incredible in immensely different ways, the first one that comes to mind is my internship for NASA in the summer of 2018. I had the privilege of flying to Austin to work under my amazing mentor, Dr. Brent Porter, at the Center for Space Research. On a team of four interns, I worked to develop a web application that contextualized precipitation forecasts with demographic and environmental data, ultimately aiding flood response efforts in Texas. The project itself was eye-opening, but it was also the fact that I was onsite with 45 other interns working on projects related to earth, space, and ocean sciences, that truly created a melting pot of curiosity and enthusiasm.
Overall, exploring Austin over the weekends, staying up until 5am to fix broken code, laughing endlessly with new friends, and working under one of the funniest, most inspiring mentors I know made my NASA internship one for the books.
What are three essentials that help you be your best self?
I absolutely love this question! First, is disconnecting from technology every now and then.
As ironic as it sounds coming from a tech enthusiast like me, I find that there is definitely a need to step away from your devices once in a while to authentically spend time with yourself and others.
Second, is actively learning something new every day. This doesn’t have to be something that takes a lot of work or is a heavy concept, but more-so something light and fun that may take just five minutes of your day. I generally do this through watching short clips, reading articles, and sometimes even scrolling through social media feeds.
Lastly, impromptu hangouts with friends always add the icing to a great week. My friends and I often text each other and within 30 minutes we’re together driving to a hill to watch the sunset, eating dinner, or even just cooking with whatever ingredients we can find. It’s hard to make plans during busy weeks, but when that window opens up, it’s totally worth it to spend time with people you care about.
Who are three people or brands who inspire you in your daily life and work and why?
VSCO, Microsoft, and Zendaya – an odd assortment, I know! VSCO primarily because it’s been really successful in establishing itself as a prominent social media platform without the conventional social media components actively involved in it. VSCO has redefined social profiles to focus more on content and less on likes or comments, which in a sense makes standard photography easily a form of artistic expression, all with just a filter applied to it.
Microsoft might be a byproduct of a little bit of bias (I mean, it’s right across the street), but I still think its mission is incredibly empowering and inclusive. The company works hard on creating technology that is accessible to those with disabilities, invests in social entrepreneurship programs around the world, and has even supported EduSTEM locally through providing a space and computers for our workshops.
And lastly, Zendaya needs no explanation. She’s beautiful, authentic, honest, and stands up for what she believes. I find her to be an amazing and empowering role model for all young girls, both on and off the screen.
How do you hope the EduSTEM Initiative will empower youth to use STEM as a medium for social change?
EduSTEM’s main goal is to provide programming that empowers youths with the knowledge and resources to do just that! For our events, we focus on the intersection of STEM and social entrepreneurship through our STEMX curriculum. STEMX signifies that STEM is put to its best use in interdisciplinary contexts such as STEMXPoliticalScience, STEMXEntrepreneurship, and more.
Our workshop formats are almost entirely project-based, with participants leaving events with a product that they create on their own. For example, during Girls Day 2019, the girls used HTML/CSS to create campaign websites for political candidates that they conceptualized. They not only had to think about the code behind the website, but also about aspects of running for office like policies, stances, and persuasion.
Through STEMX, our mission is two-fold. First, to create free inclusive and welcoming spaces in STEM for youths from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. And second, to empower these same youths to walk away with the skills and passion to use what they learn to create social impact and truly change the world.
How can we as a community support the important work you’re doing?
There are so many ways you can support us! The easiest way is by following our social media, @edusteminitiative on Instagram, EduSTEM Initiative on Facebook, and by checking out our website edusteminitiative.org. If you’re interested in learning more or partnering with us, you can reach out to me at email@example.com. If you know a youth interested in joining our team as a Regional Director, direct them to our application here! Lastly, if you want to donate to the cause, email me to get connected with our fiscal sponsor for donations.
The Yellow Co. community is such a powerful network of incredible female entrepreneurs, so it would be amazing to get to receive the support of any or all of you!
Photos courtesy of Archika Dogra