Apps with impact

Silantoi uses a similar boot camp formula that Carrasquilla applies in her Arizona-based outreach activities to generate interest in computer technology fields.

Carrasquilla brought the ASU design thinking course techniques she teaches in The Polytechnic School and translated them for a high school app-building boot camp.

“Apps are a really accessible way to understand what technology does and can do,” Carrasquilla said. “We do paper prototyping to gain concepts of digital workflow, and we look at the logic behind the apps we were making.”

Part of this prototyping involves thinking about what happens when the user interacts with particular features.

Though we often think of apps as being games, entertainment or sources of information, they can also help solve problems the app developers see in their communities. The girls in Kenya didn’t shy away from bringing up big issues they could help address with their apps: corruption, female genital mutilation, early marriages, public health and girls’ education.

Silantoi worked with the high school students to successfully develop a female genital mutilation alert app that alerts authorities of imminent incidences of the illegal practice. The fully functioning app has inspired the girls to see what they can accomplish with technology.

“It’s empowering for them to know they can make a difference,” Carrasquilla said.

Many of the students focused on different forms of corruption, which is something that affects the girls’ daily lives — for example, bank corruption can mean a girl can’t return to secondary school because her family lost the tuition money.

Others created apps on different topics. One group designed an app to teach children how to avoid getting bitten by infection-spreading insects called jiggers. Additional groups created apps to help girls overcome obstacles to staying in school and to combat drug abuse.

Carrasquilla said she and the girls saw how “working together to solve problems can make the world better at a small scale.”

“As graphic designers, we don’t often think we make an impact on the world,” Carrasquilla said. “But we design the experience of technology and we do have the ability to make a global impact.”

Showing women can have careers, families and an entrepreneurial spirit

Through the Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange Program, Carrasquilla introduced the girls to life, career and STEM experiences of her fellow faculty members at ASU and the Fulton Schools.

When presented with the opportunity to help with Carrasquilla’s activities in Kenya, Andrea Richa, a professor of computer science and engineering who specializes in network algorithm research was “very excited to be able to contribute to such a high-impact high school outreach program.”

Richa already has an outreach activity for high schoolers called the Superpowers of Swarms, in which she leads activities to show how computer scientists take inspiration from nature — such as ants, bees and fish — to help robot swarms perform tasks.

Carrasquilla said the girls were “blown away” at how accessible Richa made these advanced technical concepts seem by how she related them to concepts the girls were familiar with.

Carrasquilla also reached out to Arizona women of color to show the girls an example of what their futures could look like.

Amy Robinson, a graphic designer with the Arizona Cardinals football team by day and a “part-time solopreneur” by night, was one of the women whose stories were shared with the girls.

Carrasquilla told of Robinson’s journey to landing a full-time gig in the seemingly male-dominated sports industry and how she balances her career and passions with her life as a wife and mother.

“As a woman of color, they didn’t have to see me in a stereotypical role,” Robinson said. “I own my own company, I work within a well-known organization that embraces diversity. They can be so much more than what society tells them they have to or can be. That’s beyond inspiring.”

Robinson said hearing that the students didn’t think it was possible to work and be a mom was particularly emotional, and she was glad she could share her story to inspire and be inspired herself.

“When (Robinson) talked about her husband and kids, all the girls gasped and started whispering to each other,” Carrasquilla said. “It was impactful for them.”

Robinson considers it her duty to give back to her community, and in this case, to potentially aspiring graphic designers in Africa.

“I think it was awesome that Christina was able to go and share not only knowledge about design and design thinking, but also that she was able to inspire the girls with stories of various women in different areas of their lives making big strides in their careers,” Robinson said. “Hearing that these girls are excited to problem-solve and find out what’s out there and how they fit in, or even stand out to make a difference, is a great feeling. The future is female.”

Making a difference, one classroom at a time

Carrasquilla plans to again apply with Silantoi for the Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange Program, as well as with other fellows from the program.

She hopes to work with Mandela Washington Fellow Jennifer Batamuliza from Rwanda next summer to teach a boot camp in Batamuliza’s newly founded nonprofit organization that supports girls in tech.

But her partnership with Silantoi isn’t over yet. Before she even left Kenya, Carrasquilla and Silantoi had planned curriculum for three different boot camps to build on what they had already accomplished this summer.

Despite being a continent apart, their shared goals and passions continue to drive good conversations about how to improve and encourage girls’ access to STEM education all over the world.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by IREX. Arizona State University is a sub-grantee of IREX and has implemented a U.S.-based leadership institute as a part of the fellowship since 2014. For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, please visit yali.state.gov/mwf. For information on how you can engage with the Mandela Washington Fellowship at Arizona State University, please contact hector.zelaya@asu.edu.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-1958