In the San Fernando Valley, about 20 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, high schooler Daniela Orozco and her friends witnessed an increase in the homeless people on their way to school. They wanted to help, so they tackled the challenge and created incredible solar-powered tents that fold into rollaway backpacks. Their invention will not only help the homeless, but will encourage women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
STEM Girls Do It Better
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency, the San Fernando Valley’s homeless population increased by 36 percent to 7,094 in 2016. Orozco witnessed this firsthand. On her freshman year commute to school, she witnessed one homeless person. By senior year, she saw several.
As Orozco’s classmate, Veronica Gonzalez, explains to Mashable, they “wanted to offer something besides money.” So the girls came up with their tent idea. After presenting their plans at a young inventors conference, the teens won a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program. Equipped with this money, the girls teamed up with the non-profit DIY Girls to make their dream a reality.
The executive director of DIY Girls, Evelyn Gomez, founded her nonprofit after feeling like an “imposter” in her aerospace engineering classes at UCLA — she was usually the only girl in the class, and definitely the only Latina. Gomez started DIY Girls to provide hands-on STEM education to girls in low-income communities, giving them proper support and representation in the field.
So, how’d they do it? None of the teens had “coded, soldered, sewn, or 3D-printed before they joined forces” with Gomez and DIY Girls. None of their parents were engineers, and some of the girls will be the first in their families to go to college. Gomez taught them the ropes and they quickly became self-sufficient. If they had an issue with the solar panels, for example, they looked to Google and YouTube videos for guidance. They learned new skills, including the programming language C++. Their tents have button-powered lights, two USB ports, and a micro-USB port. If that technology wasn’t impressive enough, the girls have even even tested a sanitizing UVC light on a countdown timer.
During the six weeks of production, their can-do attitude inspired them to coin the hashtag #wegetitdone. What’s next? The grant money only covered the invention itself, so the girls hope to raise funds to mass produce their tent. And, maybe some day, this dream team will inspire more Latina women to sit in engineering classes.