Girls Who Code Visits New Lab

By Andrea Peed / August 9, 2018

On August 1st, twenty high-school students got a first-hand look at advanced technology and entrepreneurship as New Lab played host to Girls Who Code, a non-profit that supports girls in computer science and aims to close the gender gap in technology. Through tours, hands-on demonstrations, design challenges, and a panel discussion with female engineers and entrepreneurs, New Lab offered an immersive opportunity for these young women to think critically about technology, have meaningful interactions with resident tech experts, and gain exposure to a variety of STEAM career paths.

The half-day workshop, developed in conjunction with Brooklyn Community Foundation and generously underwritten by AT&T, epitomizes the common mission of AT&T’s philanthropic initiatives and New Lab’s educational programs: to inspire students of all backgrounds to pursue STEAM as a pathway to career opportunities. Like AT&T and Girls Who Code, New Lab’s educational mission sees cultivating a diversity of voices in technology and entrepreneurship as critical to sparking true innovation. In 2018 so far, the New Lab education and workforce development programs have reached over 450 students, with goals for even greater expansion in the next three years.

The Girls Who Code students are part of a summer coding program run out of AT&T’s New York office; at New Lab, they had an opportunity to see the career paths and technology fields open to them in the future.

The day started with a tour and studio visits led by New Lab’s Education Manager, which demonstrated for the group how bleeding-edge technologists have worked to solve pressing issues through biomimicry, artificial intelligence, and connected devices, among other advanced technologies. The students entered Shared Studio’s gold portal, a virtual meeting room where they had a live conversation with young coders in Gaza; at Honeybee Robotics, they heard from Narmeen Khan, a mechanical engineer, who spoke about her experience taking skills from the classroom into her first job and John Abrashkin, head of Business Development, who showed the students a model of the robotics system Honeybee designed for the Mars Rover.

Lunch offered a different kind of hands-on experience: creating a salad with greens grown in one of Farmshelf’s portable hydroponic farms, a living example of the way that innovation can translate into consumer (and consumable) products. Farmshelf’s plant scientists Codi Leitner and Jessica Monte explained how the company empowers chefs to grow leafy greens and herbs faster while using 90% less water than traditional farming methods.

The group then moved on to the design challenge workshop: given a randomly assigned design prompt and set of parameters, the group had 10 minutes to come up with a product idea, using pen and paper. Next, the students teamed up for a second round to agree on a product idea and write a pitch to communicate the concept. Matt Griffin, Director of Community, North America for Ultimaker, and Alexander Susse, New Lab’s Director of Additive Manufacturing, explained how professional designers and entrepreneurs use 3D printing to facilitate iterative design after the initial brainstorming and concept development. While the young women debated product names and the most compelling way to pitch their concepts, an Ultimaker machine set up on a table nearby hummed away, turning out a 3D picture of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.

After 20 minutes, a panel of female founders from New Lab member companies took to the stage to provide the students with feedback on their pitches. The innovative ideas included: a smart bin to sort recycling, a wearable device to monitor stress in teens and make stress-reduction recommendations, a friendly robot designed to gently wake you up, a system to preserve fruits and vegetables, and an underground filtration system to regenerate forests. New Lab members were impressed by the students’ commitment to not only harnessing new technologies to meet people’s needs, but their commitment to sustainability and social impact.

Finally, the female founders — Carrie Kengle of Area of Effect, Suma Reddy of Farmshelf and Jessica Banks of RockPaperRobot — were joined by Shaina Horowitz, New Lab’s Urban Tech Director, to discuss their career paths and offer advice for the young technologists. Kengle engaged the crowd with an anecdote about how marketing LeBron James’ new line of sneakers led to teaching herself how to code. Banks encouraged the students to make a “dare of the day” as a way of pushing beyond what you think you are capable of. She reflected on her first month at MIT, when she literally set her computer on fire. “As the computer started smoking and I was waving my arms, hoping the fire alarm wouldn’t go off, I definitely had doubts about whether I belonged there,” she said. “But I came through.”

Reddy spoke to the many different hats she wears as a founder and COO. She added, “Don’t doubt your career and personal path. At times it may feel meandering and it’s tempting to be hard on yourself and think you’re making a bad choice, but trust that you’re on a path that makes sense for you.” All three women talked passionately about the need to face your fears, embrace the highs and lows of a career in technology, and put binary ideas of success and failure to rest.

The day demonstrated the power of bringing together mentors and students, providing hands-on experience with emerging technologies and the design-thinking process, and empowering students to envision themselves as leaders in STEAM fields. Thanks to AT&T’s generous support of the program and recognition of the importance of giving access and support to diverse talent, these twenty students gained a new perspective on where their skills in computer science might take them — and how human experience can be changed through technology.

“AT&T supports programs like Girls Who Code to teach young women about career possibilities in the tech sector,” commented Marissa Shorenstein, President, Northeast Region, AT&T. “The New Lab presented a unique opportunity for the students to see companies building advanced technology, to get hands-on experience with design challenges and to hear from women founders at the cutting edge of the sector.”

Learn more about New Lab’s educational and workforce development efforts.

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