MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Iridescent seeks to interest young girls in technology


February 23, 2018

When Tara Chklovski, an aerospace engineer from India, came to the United States to pursue her Ph.D, she noticed a lack of interest in technology.

“It was interesting to see that the same drive in technology [in India] wasn’t here,” Chklovski said. “Girls are not encouraged to go into engineering and tech.”

It soon became apparent to her that something needed to be done about that. So she decided to give young people from underserved communities, particularly girls, the opportunity to become innovative leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

And in 2006 in Los Angeles, she founded Iridescent to do just that.

Since then, about 100,000 children, parents, mentors and educators have participated in the organization’s two international programs: Technovation and Curiosity Machine.

Technovation, which is for middle and high school students, gives girls the chance to learn necessary skills to become leaders and entrepreneurs in the tech world.

Girls in the program are encouraged to find a problem in their communities and are challenged to solve them by creating a mobile application, Chklovski said. In teams and with the support of mentors and a curriculum, the girls go through several stages of introducing their own mobile app startup.

Then there is Curiosity Machine, a family science program where children and their parents participate in a weekly design challenge. In it, they explore everything from computer science to biomechanics using simple household items like popsicle sticks or cardboard.

A few weeks ago, the nonprofit launched its Artificial Intelligence Family Challenge, in which students ages 8 to 15 and their families learn the basics of artificial intelligence technology by building projects together.

Tara Chklovski

“The big challenge is that AI is changing the world in big ways,” Chklovski said, and “the education system is going to take many years to react and respond.” This challenge intends to prepare young girls for it.

Although the AI challenge is still in the developing stages at some schools, STEAM coordinator for local district east of the Los Angeles Unified School District Craig Sipes said he is seeing a lot of excitement from teachers, principals and parents.

“[The project] is really fun and engaging and thought provoking for kids,” Sipes said. “Kids love to do hands-on projects, and by introducing the engineering design process, we help students structure how to solve problems.”

The program is teaching kids that when things don’t work out, it doesn’t mean they failed; instead, it’s showing them that failure is an opportunity to grow, Sipes said.

But what makes these programs unique, Chklovski said, is their family design.

“A key part [of the success of these programs] is engaging parents; it’s a two-generational approach. It’s really important for the child and parent to learn [about STEAM],” Chklovski said.

But these programs, Chklovski has found, do more than provide children an opportunity to bond with their families and be mentored by STEM professionals; they’ve also bettered the individuals who participate in them.

“Often, kids who do well in the family challenge struggle academically. Once they find a creative and imaginative environment, they really try,” she said.

For many students, creating designs is the first time the child feels like he or she could be successful in something, Chklovski said.

But Iridescent hopes to reach beyond helping young children blossom; it hopes to help their parents and guardians, too.

“If some of these stay-at-home moms are not working because they are taking care of children, it’s a big loss of potential,” Chklovski said. But if the millions of stay-at-home mothers in the U.S., many who don’t take the academic path, take on an entrepreneurial route after the program, big things can happen.

“If you can open new horizons for 60 million [stay-at-home mothers], we can change the world.”

INFORMATION BOX

CEO: Tara Chklovski

Years in operation: 12

Annual budget: $2.5 million

Number of employees: 27

Location: 532 W. 22nd St., Los Angeles, 90007

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