Digitize is a 501(c)3 organization that aims to encourage students to use Computer Science for environmental and social good.

Photo of Emily Chen
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Written by

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Website: https://digitizehackathon.tech/ Instagram: @digitizehackathon

Date You Started Your Project Started

March 22, 2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

As frequent hackathon participants, we noticed that the vast majority of projects created, such as games, were not directly applicable to the community. Additionally, we were appalled at the impacts of climate change on our world, and how actions that are currently being taken are harming the environment. Therefore, we decided to combine our interests of Computer Science with the intent of saving the Earth, and joined Digitize.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Digitize started as a free 24 hour hackathon where high school participants are encouraged to create coding projects that specifically focus on social and environmental issues as a way help bring light to issues threatening our planet. Through networking with Computer Engineers in the field, we invite adult volunteers to attend and teach students on various concepts of CS. This gives students who don’t have any background experience to attend and learn at our event along with furthering the interests of intermediate students. Throughout the past two years, participants have created multiple projects, from interactive health apps to a robot that can detect wildfires, and many have taken their idea developed at our hackathon to further develop it into something that is used by the general public. Additionally, to target the racial and gender disparities prevalent in the Computer Science field today, we launched the Digitize Mentorship Program April of 2020 that aims to create a welcoming experience for coders of underrepresented groups by pairing them with college and high school mentors from all over the world to learn Computer Science through one on one virtual sessions.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

At our annual 24 hour event, we invite multiple speakers and mentors from top tech companies (Visa, Roblox, etc) in Silicon Valley to present about topics in Computer Science. Participants are then able to learn the basics of Computer Science through the presentations, and then directly apply the skills towards their own project with the help of mentors and peers. They are able to learn from top engineers in the field, and get an insight into the process for developing, debugging, and launching a project. We also have speakers from our local environmental group, 350.org, come to teach students the importance of saving the environment and what steps, small or big, they can take today to reduce their carbon footprint on this Earth. These presentations inspire the participants to use their Computer Science skills to create something that can be used to help the planet.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Growing up, I often saw news on climate change, but had no idea what it meant until I was in my teens. I realized that climate change is real and that in order to prevent it and make Earth habitable for decades to come, our generation needed to act quickly. From then, I was inspired to live sustainably and to educate others on the importance of doing so as well. Combined with my passion for STEM, and specifically Computer Science, I joined the team for Digitize to help expand the initiative.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

For our hackathon, we have expanded to include a total of over 200 participants from 40 different schools, and received sponsorships from companies such as Amazon, Nvidia, and HyperX, totalling over $10,000. In under a month, our Mentorship Program has impacted over 50 individuals from 14 states, with more than half of our tutees coming from underrepresented racial communities.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

As an organization run solely by high schoolers, Digitize gives our organizers not only an opportunity to educate others, but to also learn themselves. Many get to improve their communication skills through video calls with managers of top companies, improving their public speaking and leadership skills. Additionally, we have reached areas all over the United States, from California, where we started, to Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Vermont, etc, along with mentors from Caltech University, UMich University, and the Philippines.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

In the last 3 months, we have raised a total of over $2,000 (monetary + in-kind) from top tech companies for our third iteration of Digitize along partnering with Nvidia to host our event and working on partnerships with Facebook, IBM, and Ciena. We have also established our Mentorship Program, and worked with many local and international organizations along with reaching out to over 500+ schools to promote and publicize our program. Additionally, we have established partnerships with similar youth -led organizations from the Philippines, Britain, Hong Kong, and Canada.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We would love to expand our Mentorship Program to multiple different countries so students are able to be paired up and gain an insight into their lifestyle and culture. For example, a student from the United States would be able to be paired with another student from Saudia Arabia, and can compare their daily schedules, extracurricular activities, etc. Grants like this would allow us to dedicate more resources into specifically our Outreach sector where we would be able to gain more participants into our annual hackathon as well as our Mentorship Program.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

Through our event, we have inspired attendees to create many exceptional projects, one being an app that uses Machine Learning algorithms to detect how to recycle an object that you take a picture of. We also utilize our Instagram following of over 600 people to bring awareness to changes that people can make everyday to help out our environment.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

We would love to partner with other Changemakers to bring awareness to our audiences about the causes that they are promoting. Due to the wide variety of projects from groups in different states, a partnership would allow for all of us to reach out to more people and to influence them to take a step in their lives towards bettering the environment.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

Although current news about the state of our planet may seem depressing, we can do our part to revitalize the environment by educating the youth and the generations that follow. Computer Science is cutting edge technology that constantly pushes the boundaries of what we can do and what we know. By teaching students the importance of environmental conservation while encouraging them to create applications in Computer Science, we are combining two forces that will change the future of this planet

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $100-$1k
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Search engine

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Probably - 75%

Maybe - 25%

Probably not - 0%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 0%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 50%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 25%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 25%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4 - Yes, I think so - 25%

3 - Maybe - 25%

2 - Probably not. - 25%

1 - No - 25%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4 - Yes, I think so - 100%

3 - Maybe - 50%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4 - Yes, I think so - 50%

3 - Maybe - 25%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4- Yes, I think so - 100%

3- Maybe - 0%

2- Probably not - 0%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 66.7%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 33.3%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 66.7%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 66.7%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 66.7%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 50%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 100%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 50%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 0%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 0%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Victoria Ren

Hey Emily! I love the idea of utilizing CS for social good and the one-on-one mentorship program you launched to teach CS to those without as many resources. I'm apart of STEM & Buds which has a similar focus of project creation, solving problems through these skills, and peer mentorship. We would love to work with your organization sometime. If you are interested, my email is stemandbudspa@gmail.com :)

Photo of Emily Chen

STEM & Buds sounds interesting. I will talk it over with my team and reach out to you in the near future! Love your website btw looks really clean and modern :)

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