Empowering Students to Use Technology as a Force for Good

General Motors and Ashoka honor young people who use STEM to make a difference in their community.   

General Motors and Ashoka — a global organization committed to investing in individuals with ideas for a better future — partnered for an initiative to recognize and support extraordinary young people who have started projects to improve their schools, neighborhoods and communities through STEM. Aimed at creating social change, student entrepreneurs from across the country applied for the Ashoka and General Motors STEM for Changemaking Challenge, with an opportunity to access $30,000 in funding from General Motors toward their venture ideas.  

Twenty-five finalists were selected for a three-day immersive experience in Detroit. Five students were selected to give a five-minute presentation, then field questions and receive constructive guidance from a panel of General Motors executives and an audience full of employees, volunteers, parents and fellow student changemakers. The full presentation and executive panel feedback can be seen here.   

General Motors executive panelist and Director of Global Innovation Rachel Kuhn was excited not only by the passion, but also by the empathy-based, out-of-the-box thinking the Ashoka Changemakers demonstrated.   

“As you think about large companies, understand that it’s a lot of people working toward one common goal every day, and you will find that great ideas can spread like wildfire,” said Kuhn in her closing remarks. “Be specific on the help you are looking for. Don’t hesitate to find that one person in a company and share your passion and energy with them, because what you are doing is so evidently awesome.”   

All 25 finalists participated in breakout sessions, toured downtown Detroit, engaged with General Motors engineers and employees and completed a workshop with Satori Shakoor, host of WDET’s “Twisted Storytellers” podcast, on the power of storytelling. “Our biggest asset is the time people give us, where we can ask meaningful questions and get meaningful responses. We got to sit down with GM engineers and talk about how to design things for humans … that’s unparalleled access,” said Noah Tavares, Ashoka changemaker, Stria.   

One of the five featured presenters, Detroit native and current Austin resident Laya Yalamanchili, whose parents were former General Motors employees, created HydroAlert, an innovative flood warning system using ultrasonic sensors, IoT devices, the cloud and mobile technologies.
“Growing up in an area that commonly floods, I wanted to create a solution that alerted people of low water crossings after a driver died at a low crossing. Using technology and AI to predict floods will help save lives and help the community plan,” said Yalamanchili.

The four other featured presentations were:   

  • GEARup4Youth, Los Angeles, an organization offering robotics and programming classes to underprivileged girls at Boys and Girls Clubs. GEARup4Youth has hosted presentations in partnership with science museums, public libraries and radio stations and has designed hands-on technological activities promoting familial support for girls during elementary school family events.
  • Human Projects, Tampa Bay, Florida, a global youth-run nonprofit using engineering principles to empower young people to become leaders in human rights.
  • Operation Sustain, Seattle, an educational video game in which younger students learn about climate issues and sustainability and how they can make an impact.
  • Stria, San Francisco, a student-run startup devoted to helping people face the challenges of visual impairment by harnessing the power of design engineering.   
At the end of the conference the students made the following oath: “I promise upon my honor to leave this world more sustainable, more compassionate and more loving than I found it. I promise to use my knowledge and intelligence for the good of all and to help others do the same. I am a changemaker.”

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    EMPOWERING STUDENTS TO USE TECHNOLOGY AS A FORCE FOR GOOD. Source: https://www.gm.com/our-stories/community/empowering-students-to-use-technology-as-a-force-for-good.html