The future leaders of the tech field are learning how to program in churches and libraries right now. And they’re in elementary school. And they’re females.
Rida Bayraktar, Founder of PinkSTREAM, says some girls she works with are already writing down their ideas for startups.
PinkSTREAM aims to increase interest in STREAM fields (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, and Math) especially among girls in elementary and middle schools through free workshops and classes.
Data show that around middle and high school, girls lose interest in STEM, because many times males dominate the space. Bayraktar says she has lived that data.
“Most of the research that has been done, I have already experienced,” she said. “That gives us a big advantage.”
Bayraktar, who is now a rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill studying computer science, never thought she would enter the STEM field, because the stereotypical male computer “geek” excluded her.
While a senior at Green Hope High School in Cary, though, she joined the robotics team and became the only girl on a team of 100 students. Bayraktar says most STEM education and environments are targeted toward a male audience.
“So we’re creating educational environments and educational materials for STEM education to be toward girls’ interests as well, so that girls don’t feel left out, and they feel empowered and successful in STEM fields,” Bayraktar said.
Based in Chapel Hill, the organization draws on resources from Launch Chapel Hill—PinkSTREAM is a member of the accelerator’s summer cohort—CUBE (UNC’s accelerator focused on social innovation); a UNC Bryan fellowship for projects making a social impact; and The Kenan-Biddle Partnership Grant.
A group of full-time students volunteer to run after-school programs for 2-3 hours a week on topics like programming, 3D printing and robotics in community partner locations like churches and libraries.
Bayraktar says they make sure the classes are majority-female, and the free cost of the programs also helps serve low-income children. She says volunteering with PinkSTREAM gives her a much-needed mental break from her computer science classes.
“You go in thinking that you will be teaching something,” she said, “but you learn so many things that you’re amazed. I think we really underestimate children’s abilities and understanding.”
A new look for the ecosystem
Now, Bayraktar embraces being the only girl in the room and other aspects of her identity, though she says she sometimes feels discouraged by people focusing on her ethnicity or appearance.
“I’m young, but also I’m a Muslim,” Bayraktar said. “I’m a Hijabi woman, which is a very, very low minority in these business startup fields. Despite all of this, I never feel like I should stop doing what I’m doing.”
The organization is just in its first year, but Bayraktar has large ambitions. They are in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and she wants to extend PinkSTREAM’s reach across the globe.
Her goal is to become a multi-chapter national organization and eventually serve students internationally. She says community organizations, like religious institutions, can be used more efficiently for the younger generation’s education.
“They are all around the world,” she said. “Wherever you go, no matter how bad the resources are, you still have religious resources. Why don’t we use these places for the betterment of the society for our children learning STEM and changing the world, hopefully?”