Olps engineering projects in community service club the hosts of the annual hackathon

Girls Participate in Academy of Our Lady of Peace Hackathon
By Ashley Yeatts, OLP Alumna from the Class of 2020

75 young women in grades 8-12 from more than 20 schools across San Diego County recently came to the Academy of Our Lady of Peace (OLP) campus to attend the 2nd Annual OLP Hackathon.

Inspired by the past year and a half of pandemic living, this event was themed “Global Health in the Modern World.” Girls were tasked with designing a device that would either prevent a health condition or help someone who is living with an existing condition. Sorted into teams of seven or eight, the girls set off on a collaborative problem-solving journey as they researched issues affecting people around the globe.

Dr. Seema Shah, the Epidemiology and Immunization Services Branch Medical Director for the County of San Diego, kicked off the day as the keynote speaker, discussing the importance of women in STEM. After this speech, with energetic music pumping throughout the Holy Family Event Center, girls spent the next six hours with fingers flying across keyboards and mice clicking on news articles and videos. After months of planning this event, it was inspiring to see girls as young as 13 engage so heavily with the prompt and with each other.

After hours of group work, candy breaks, and light bulbs going off, the girls were ready to present their ideas to a panel of esteemed judges from companies like Illumina and Data Science Alliance. Each group presented their product with a six-minute pitch. After all the girls in their groups spoke – each highlighting a different aspect of their project – the girls confidently answered tough questions from the judges, describing the uniqueness of their products, how their design can be set apart from what else is on the market, how their product is both sustainable and accessible, and more.

Witnessing such innovative and creative girls pitch their ideas to a panel of judges who have worked in the world of engineering and medicine is an experience that could never be fully described. When each girl boldly took the microphone in front of a room filled with people, it was silent. Every eyeball was glued to them, amazed with how complete of a project these girls were able to put together in just one day.

OLP hosted California’s first-ever all-girls Hackathon in 2019. The hope in pioneering the OLP Hackathon is that girls will be inspired by this experience and create more Hackathons and to pursue majors and careers in STEM, where women are historically underrepresented. In this environment, young women took the helm and were confident in their problem-solving abilities.

With girls participating at this young age, this event is setting them up for a future to be changemakers in our global society. As the event continues to grow, we hope to see more girls grow in their confidence and see that they have the power, drive, and potential to tackle some of the world’s largest problems.

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Esteban Villanueva