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High School Girls Invent Solar-Powered Tent For Homeless Community

DIY Girls was founded in 2011 by Luz Rivas, an MIT graduate, engineer, and educator who wanted to empower girls to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Rivas focused her efforts specifically on helping girls from low-income backgrounds, whom she knew might not otherwise receive the encouragement needed to pursue STEM. Indeed, according to the National Science Board, women make up only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. Of that 29 percent, only 6 percent are Hispanic or Latina. 

As Brittany Levine Beckman reports for Mashable, DIY Girls hopes to change that. Today, the nonprofit recruits at schools around the United States. They search for girls who are eager to solve personal, school-wide, and community-wide problems, and help them learn the STEM skills necessary to do so. 

When DIY Girls executive director Evelyn Gomez began recruiting at her alma mater, San Fernando High School, she quickly met several such girls. They shared a common concern: the rising rate of homelessness in their neighborhoods. As of 2016, San Fernando valley's rate of homelessness had increased 36 percent, to include around 7,094 people. The girls noticed more people living on the streets, and they wanted to help, but they were unsure how. 

"Because we come from low-income families ourselves, we can't give them money," said Daniela Orozco, one of the students recruited by Gomez. 

Instead, Orozco and eleven other girls, under the supervision of Gomez, decided to undertake an ambitious project. They wanted to create a special tent to help homeless people in the San Fernando Valley. The tent would have solar powered lights, as well as the ability to fold up into a roll-away backpack, for fast and easy mobility. 

Though few of the girls knew one another before Gomez recruited them, they quickly began working together, six days a week, even through spring and winter breaks, for an entire year. Along the way, they learned new skills, from programming languages to 3D printing.

For many of the girls, none of whom have parents who are engineers, their dedication to the project was deeply personal, as is their dedication to ending homelessness. "Because we live here, we see it growing constantly. If your parents miss X amount of bills, you can fall into homelessness, too," said Maggie Mejia, one of the students working on the tent.  

For Gomez, the importance of helping young girls become engineers was just as personal. "I studied aerospace engineering. When I was getting my master's degree, I was often the only girl in the class and definitely the only Latina in the class. It felt like kind of imposter syndrome," she said. She hopes that by supervising burgeoning female engineers, and acting as a role model, the future for girls in STEM can change. 

With the help of Gomez, the team of young engineers was able to apply for and win a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to help them continue development on their design. On June 16th, the team presented their tent, which now includes USB ports and a sanitizing UVC light, at a conference for young inventors at MIT. The team hopes that in the future, they could see their design mass-produced. 

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