Ask a young person what needs fixing, and their answers will range from global to close to home. In Amehja Williams’ case, it was both: The 17-year-old North Philadelphia resident was concerned about seeing the large amount of litter in her neighborhood and the effect it may have on climate change.
The environment is also a top priority for Paola Mendizabal, 18, who hails from Woodbridge, Virginia.
“It was important for us to pick something surrounding the environment,” she said of the technical project the two collaborated on alongside three other girls from the mid-Atlantic. Referencing University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s environmental report card, she added, “Chesapeake Bay’s rating has become really low in my area, and I see the effects firsthand.”
Amehja and Paola are two of five members of the Homegirl Hackers team, which over three months developed the CultivAte app that aims to share information on food ingredients to support sustainable lifestyles through Technovation. The international program supports girls ages 10 through 18 in building apps to address community problems. Girls are paired with mentors, and the teams work up until the Technovation World Summit in August, which this year saw 269 teams apply.
The team was connected via Technovation’s Philadelphia chapter and mentored by Emma Yeung, a 2015 Technovation winner.
The five girls first connected with each other in December 2020 and began brainstorming project ideas on Google Meet and Zoom. They used Thunkable, a no-code app platform, to create their app.
“The Technovation program provides several resources for app development, one of which is Thunkable,” said Amehja, a student at West Chester-based cyber school Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School. “Because it’s a web browser app you can use and share projects to, we decided it would be best regardless of skill set to explore how our app idea could be expanded.”
Working on a tech project fulfilled them on an academic and personal level, the girls said. Paola already knew how to code before working on the project, and Amehja was excited to learn more about careers in STEM.
“It was a step to enrich academic and career goals and have fun, too,” Amehja said. “Once I discovered the competition and what it was oriented around, I thought it was awesome, and overall it ties into my hobbies, interests and future career goals. [I learned] different ways to approach problems in STEM. It doesn’t always have to be you sitting at a console.”
Paola hopes that those older than her peers can embrace technology as easily as her generation does, while using it responsibly and ensuring that people of all backgrounds have access.
“They should accept technology and see the good in it and how helpful it could be to every group,” she said. “It’s also important not to abuse the power of tech.”
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-