Girls Make Tech with Heart is my favorite annual event of the Buenaventura Section, explains Doug Askegard, IEEE Life Member (LM). “When something is taught with a pure sense of joy, the learning becomes indelible. I am grateful to the IEEE Foundation for funding this program and enabling it to become what it is today.”

This sentiment is shared by other LMs and volunteers who have made Girls Make Tech with Heart an experience to remember. Joy comes first in the list of goals, and all activities are designed to lift the spirit, not only in the participants but also in the mentors and organizers. In that moment of happiness, concepts of engineering are inserted experientially. For the past three years, the underlying theme has been Aging Graciously with Technology.

Approximately 150 girls, ranging in age between nine and 14, arrive from different parts of Ventura County, California, on a Saturday, some venturing for the first time, to this free science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) event consisting of workshops involving emerging technologies: sensing electronics, audio recognition, Arduino programmable kits, robotic arms, smart fabrics, infrared imaging, and virtual reality technologies—all focused on being beneficial for assisted living.

How It All Began

The idea for the annual event emerged from an IEEE talk presented by Nathalie Gosset in 2015: “Technology in Our Future—An Ally in Graceful Aging.” It was carried live on the government access television channel of the Thousand Oaks, California, Council on Aging. “Technology is essential to postponing problems that appear with cognitive decline in older age,” says Gosset. “It is unreasonable to assume that the person facing the problem will realize that things have changed. With thoughtful planning, quality of life can be extended and gracious aging supported.”

One of the workshops, “Helping Hand,” focuses on robotics in service of assisted living. The girls build robotic arms and use them in interactive games/ Photo: IEEE Buenaventura Section

This message resonated well with the environment in which the Buenaventura Section operates. More than half of the 638 IEEE Members have 30 years or more of experience in engineering, with 26% being LMs. This creates an engineering cohort nurturing their technical relevance with an eagerness to be of value to the community. It is the ideal setting for member engagement to learn about, and make a difference in, the life of the aging population as well as to address one of the county’s imperatives: having more students enter technical professions in Ventura County to meet the demands of industry. After a successful pilot event, the Buenaventura Section applied to the IEEE Foundation grant program to enable the Girls Make Tech with Heart event to be further developed and reach more girls in Ventura County.

Today, the program includes parents who are invited to get engaged in a parallel, cojoint conference in an adjacent building. “Parents seem to have as much fun as the girls,” states Gosset. They participate in their own STEM workshops and attend talks: “The Brain Development From Childhood to Adult Life and Approaches to Accelerate the Learning of STEM,” “Jobs of the Future That Await Your Daughters,” “Cybersecurity for Your Daughter,” and “Aging Graciously With Technology.”

Meeting Its Mission

The drive of Girls Make Tech with Heart is to

• Connect engineering with a philanthropic pursuit that feels relevant to a middle school girl. The talk “Aging Graciously With Technology” brings discussion about ways to diminish the isolation of the elderly, help adults with older parents care for their parents more efficiently, and lower the dependence on costly services provided to home-bound senior citizens.
• Nurture an interest in STEM in middle school, high school, and college students by actively involving them in formulating solutions for the generation of their grandparents.
• Develop a sense of empowerment in girls and enable them to develop possible solutions for their aging grandparents.

Proud of the Program’s Success

The “Aging Graciously With Technology” workshop has been running since 2015 with great success. This program has been selected three times by the IEEE Foundation as a grant recipient. The Buenaventura Section received the prestigious IEEE 2019 Educational Activities Board Section Professional Development Award for this initiative. The event is a great example of LM engagement with youth and our future.

IEEE Life Member Mohammad Tehrani works with girls on “Robot Loving Sun,” one of the workshops of Girls Make Tech with Heart. It involves the use of solar technology to drive robots made with recycling material, such as empty cans or plastic bottles. / Photo: IEEE Buenaventura Section