GEAR Up 4 Youth

I founded a non-profit to combat gender stereotypes, empower & foster under-resourced girls’ interests in technology.

Photo of Megan
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Additional categories (optional)

  • Education

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

10/07/2002

Help us stay in touch!

714-874-6381

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

Website: stemup4youth.org; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gearup4youth/

Date You Started Your Project Started

12/18/2015

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?

Technology is changing our world. As technology becomes more prevalent, women remain widely under-represented, holding about 26% of tech-related jobs, while minorities & the underprivileged only account for 10%. The root causes of the gender gap in technology are the lack of resources and technological opportunities for girls, especially the disadvantaged, along with severe gender stereotyping.

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

When I first brought technology to a Boys & Girls Club (where many underprivileged girls go after school), I was stunned. They had never heard of coding before, and were not interested in learning at all. After brainstorming, I created a curriculum using colorful LEGO robots, hoping to engage the girls, which actually succeeded! This approach provided a fun hands-on experience, bringing out their natural curiosity and creativity. After building their own LEGO bees and flowers, they couldn’t wait to let both their creations and imagination fly! Family support is crucial in getting girls interested in tech. I hosted presentations, family fairs and expos. I wrote my own scripts, interweaving theater and fun into presentations. Female underrepresentation in tech is not just a local or national issue, it’s an international one. I took the initiative to make a global impact by speaking at the United Nations Headquarters, bringing solutions of gender equality of science & technology to policymakers around the world. I currently have 6 international chapters. I’ve also authored & published my debut children's STEM book, which is available at 10 libraries and online globally.

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

S.T.E.M. enthralled me even before I sat on my first bicycle. I grew up surrounded by LEGO pieces, Rubik’s cubes, and logic games, and was thankful to attend a few technology camps during my elementary school years. My first camp experience was surprising—I had never seen the boys’ restroom line almost ten times longer than the girls’ before! I found myself surrounded by twenty boys and only one other girl. That was my first time being exposed to the gender gap in technology. Subsequent camps only reinforced this issue. I realized that many girls, my peers included, were hindered by the influence of gender stereotypes. I yearned to lessen the gender gap. I wanted to do something, anything, to make a change, no matter how big or small. And thus, the idea of creating the non-profit organization, GEARup4Youth, was born.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

You’ve probably heard of the gender gap in technology: 25% of the workforce is female, and only 10% make up minorities and underprivileged. You might think, just bring the girls computers and show them how to code, right? The reality isn’t that simple. I’m stepping up to make change because gender equality is a basic human right. I’m changing young girls’ perceptions of tech by creating a fun, interactive experience through classes, plays, and family fairs internationally.

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

A small bulldozer barreled towards me at full speed as I was staggering out the door of the Boys & Girls Club with LEGO robots in my arms. Her velocity almost knocked the robots out of my hands! Clinging onto my leg like a koala, she pleaded, “Can I please keep my robot a little longer? I love robotics! I want to build big robots when I grow up!” She released my leg to stretch her arms as wide as she could. “This big!” Melissa was one of the girls who turned away when I first introduced robotics to my class. I still vividly remember what she told me: “My Dad said programming is for boys.” Over the course of the classes, however, Melissa became one of the most excited girls, and would constantly run up to show me her new creations. It was incredible seeing her transformation from disinterest to elation. There is nothing more amazing than making a difference in a girl’s life.

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

Young girls learn best by having fun. We’re inventing new solutions to engage under-resourced girls with games and girl-fond characters. Besides using colorful LEGO robots to bring out their natural curiosity, I designed fun outdoor games with balloons and mazes to explore teamwork while reinforcing programming concepts. We’re the only youth-led organization combating the gender stereotype by educating families, interweaving theatre and STEM in an interactive play to highlight how fun and inclusive tech can be.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Last summer, I traveled to Malaysia & connected with several local organizations. After pitching my idea, they were thrilled to partner & combat the gender stereotype. Together, we went to a small Malaysian town. I was dumbfounded—there was limited access to technology. Many children hadn’t even heard of LEGO robots. I was able to host family presentations & a fair with the help of a translator. The delight on the girls’ faces was incredible. After training native high schoolers, Malaysia became our 1st international chapter of 6. Through my efforts, & the help of 180 volunteers from 35 schools, I’ve reached over 9,000 girls, partnering with over 200 organizations. My work has received several awards, including the National Gold Award Girl Scouts - the most prestigious award from Girl Scouts of the USA. There are only 10 projects selected among over 4,500 Gold Awards nationally

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

My non-profit has grown from one girl to 180 volunteers from 35 schools. In order to ensure successful sustainment and split up the work effectively, I’ve created 8 committee positions to cover all possible roles so GEARup4Youth can sustain itself. Currently, my organization has 6 international chapters. I’m hoping to connect with more partners and create 50 chapters by 2025. I hope to continue to pursue my passions, encourage the growth of diversity and gender equality in the next generation of youth to pursue STEM careers. Expand my reach will gift more girls with the gratification technology brings! I am working to catalyze social change with technology. I’m committed to reshaping the world for positive and sustainable change!

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Brand Development

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

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Sales
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k
  • Donations between $1k-$5k
  • Donations over $10k

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

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3 comments

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Photo of Sarah Holcomb
Team

Hey Megan! Wow — I was so inspired to learn about your with GEARUp4Youth in your community and around the world. I especially love how you designed family events to involve parents. The way you use storytelling to describe your work is very compelling. I’d suggest checking out the other entries in this year’s Challenge who are working with girls in STEM— there could be some fantastic opportunities for collaborations and alliances to deepen your impact. Best of luck!

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