South River High School: Bringing Girl Power to the STEM Field

Feb 10, 2014 12:20 PM ET

South River High School: Bringing Girl Power to the STEM Field

Jasmine Hall , Maryam Ermin-Sinanovic, Megan Prass, Gelsey Jian and Heritage Weems are 11th grade students from South River High School in Edgewater, MD, who share a drive and passion for technology. When their course loads allow, they join competitions, whether it is building a robot or entering a project in the science fair. While this might not seem “typical” for girls in high school, they are not alone. Their school is home to a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program that offers chances for both girls and boys to excel in STEM fields. The STEM workforce, however, tells a different story however as women remain severely outnumbered by men. These young ladies are setting out to change that.

One afternoon last fall, Jasmine, the Team Leader, noticed a flyer for the Verizon Innovative App Challenge on the school’s STEM program bulletin board. It was a national competition asking middle and high school students to create mobile app concepts that would apply STEM-related content to solve a problem in their schools or communities. Ten winning middle school and high school teams would be chosen nationwide to win a $10,000 grant for their schools, free Samsung tablets for each team member and an opportunity to work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab to bring their apps to life in the Google Play Store.

Jasmine immediately told Megan, the Marketer for the team, and the 2 of them then recruited Maryam (Research Director), Gelsey (Artistic Designer) and Heritage (Project Designer/Refiner) to form the team that would enter the competition. They approached their original computer science teacher, Ms. Terry Roberts, to be their faculty advisor. With a team solidified, the girls began working on their app design.

The Study Buddy App

The girls organized brainstorm sessions to decide on the app concept and what problem it would solve. They recognized that most high school students like themselves are constantly juggling rigorous courses with hectic afterschool schedules. The balancing act demands a high level of organization. Their shared experiences with procrastination, especially when it came to completing assignments and studying for exams, helped the team determine what their app would do.

The girls wanted a tool to help students like them not only manage their time, but also improve their study habits and to provide general information to help students in daily challenges. The team started their research with the causes and effects of procrastination, and methods to overcome it. They also looked into various apps that are currently available for students, including flashcard apps, calendar apps, and note taking apps. What they were not able find was one app that combined all these tools. So the Study Buddy app was born.

Study Buddy is designed to help students of all ages develop better time-management skills and study habits. At its core, Study Buddy is a planner with unique, interactive features. For example, when an “upcoming test” is added as an event to the planner, the user will have the option to add flashcards or notes to that event. The user can also set up a series of reminders leading up to the day of the event so whenever a reminder alert is received, the flashcards or notes will pop up and encourage the user to study.

What makes the Study Buddy app so interesting is Chester, the app mascot, who is designed to give the users moral support and cheer them on. Chester makes the app come to life and creates a real connection with the user by being encouraging, loyal and friendly. He is a koala-dingo in a paint can with a host of other fun friends that may feature in the app later on, or in additional apps that the group creates to expand on Study Buddy.

The App Challenge

On March 18, 2013,, Verizon Foundation in partnership with the Technology Student Association and an expert panel of judges chose only 10 teams for the award of Best in Nation, and one of the winning apps was Study Buddy. Study Buddy was also the only all girls team chosen from across the country.

****The girls learned of our winning Best in Nation in school, but the plan was to go onto the webpage and keep refreshing it. Only Jasmine, Megan, and Maryam were in class to find out about winning Best in Nation. The teachers called them down to the office and claimed it was to take a photo, then surprising the girls with the fact that they had won. The three girls quickly informed the remaining team members.

They would later learn that they were the only all-girls team to win.

The group agreed that just because they are girls, it does not mean technology and computers cannot be fun. “We’re bringing a new perspective to this field,” said Gelsey.

Although the team already had a keen interest in STEM prior to the App Challenge, the process was transformative.

“I would never have thought of doing more with computers than 9th grade Intro to Computer Science,” said Maryam. Being part of the App Challenge has made her more confident and helped her discover skills she did not know she had. “Winning the App Challenge Best in Nation has definitely changed the way I see myself,” explained Maryam. “It showed that I have potential in these fields, potentials that I was not even aware of.”

Megan too says that the App Challenge increased her interest in technology, and that the experience of creating the Study Buddy App was unlike any she has had in high school to date.

Now, the girls will receive hands-on, training on coding with the MIT Media Lab’s App Inventor Training Corps. This expert in app development with the MIT App Inventor software will help the girls refine and build their app design. Study Buddy is expected to be available for free download in the Google Play store this summer, though possibly under a different name due to the copious numbers of apps currently available called “Study buddy”.

The all-girl Team Study Buddy has certainly paved the way for all students at South River High School. There are already plans to add a “Create An App” class to the STEM curriculum next year.

Jasmine, Maryam, Megan, Gelsey and Heritage partnered as a team, combining their skills and love for STEM to achieve what they did not think was possible for a group of 17-year-old girls from a small town in Maryland