Each year, thousands of people gather for Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), a hub for app development, laboratories, networking, and announcements of Apple's latest technologies. And each year, Apple awards a few lucky people WWDC scholarships in recognition of their talents as emerging developers. These scholarship winners receive a ticket and lodging for WWDC as well as one year of membership in the Apple Developer Program. This year, lots of young women developers made the cut, and it's safe to say that they're just a few of the women under 18 in STEM you need to know about.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are fiercely competitive disciplines, and pervasive gender bias means the odds are often stacked against women, and especially women of color, who enter the field. But mentorship among women is consistently cited as one of the top ways to make it easier for young women to succeed, and the WWDC scholarship is a surefire way to make those connections.
Several of this year's crop of recipients are proudly repping female STEM excellence, whether it's mentoring other girls to get them interested in STEM subjects, or creating apps designed for women. Three of the 2019 scholarship winners, high school students from across the United States, spoke to Bustle about their inspirations, how they plan to change the world through tech, and what got them so excited about STEM in the first place.
Anne Li, 16
Anne Li, who founded the AI workshop program Allgirlithm when she was just 14, tells Bustle she first discovered her passion for STEM in middle school.
"My middle school was my first exposure to competition math. My old school had a strong Science Olympiad team, so I was involved with those too, but it wasn't until 8th grade that I first became interested in computer science in particular," she says. "Two friends and I built a medical helper desktop app for a national all-girls computer science competition."
But as her interest blossomed, so did her awareness of the bias that exists. "Getting involved in that initiative was the first time that I became aware of the gender gap in tech," she says. "Even from an early age, girls are not encouraged as much to go into computer science. Even after girls go into it there's a lot of obstacles they have to overcome. I think it's really important to start early and encourage girls to get interested in STEM."
To that end, she created Allgirlithm, which teaches girls to embrace their interest in computer science, and is growing exponentially. "To date we've worked with AI club leaders in 15 states and five countries outside the U.S.," Li tells Bustle. "We work with students from around the world who are interested in starting AI clubs at their school, and provide them with these curriculums and other guidance. We're also working on developing a workshop curriculum to use in one to two hour workshops designed to introduce young students to AI."
As for the future, Allgirlithm is Li's passion project — but it's not all she's doing. "Currently it's my priority, but outside of outreach, I also work on apps; I'm currently working on my second iOS application and I do competitive programming," she tells Bustle. "I'm really excited to see the latest innovations that Apple is working on, and also to meet the other scholarship winners, discuss ideas and exchange thoughts — and to talk to Apple developers and get feedback on certain apps."
Jothi Ramaswamy, 17
Jothi Ramaswamy is actually a returning champion at WWDC. "I actually won the scholarship for the past two years, so I love the conference," she tells Bustle. Ramaswamy is the brains behind ThinkSTEAM, an organization to encourage girls' passion for STEM and the arts.
"I've always loved science as a whole since I was in elementary school," she says — but her interest in coding came about because of her aversion to early mornings. "When I first learned to code in 6th grade, it was because I wanted something to do at home but I didn't want to go to camp, because I'd have to wake up early for that. My mom is a software engineer, and I always wanted to know what she was talking about. I decided to learn what my mom did for a living so I could decipher what her work calls were." Her mother taught her the basics of coding, and a passion was born.
Currently a high school senior, Ramaswamy has been accepted to Harvard. "I plan to concentrate on applied math and computer science. I really hope I can gain a lot of resources and knowledge and meet a lot of people," she tells Bustle. Of all her achievements, she's most proud of ThinkSTEAM. "Being able to teach girls in the area and seeing that spark of interest towards coding — seeing that I can have that impact is one of the proudest achievements of my life. In the past four years, because I started it in 2015, I was able to connect with other high schools across the country and train them to hold their own workshops and see them have their own impact in their communities," she says.
When it comes to the far future, Ramaswamy is dreaming big. "Eventually the dream is to create my own company based on my own coding and app development, that can really help people in my community and help solve problems that affect a lot of people I know," she says.
Tanvi Khot, 17
Khot, a high school junior, tells Bustle she was gobsmacked to be a scholarship recipient. "Honestly I didn't expect it at all," she says. "It seemed like such a great and unattainable thing, because so many great developers win it every year. It was a really great feeling." Khot's own achievements include an app called Insulink, which monitors insulin through an AI chatbot, and a new app named Aegis. "It's an app for university campuses that's a buddy system for women; it connects women to improve their chances to get to places safely, because I know that university campuses are often unsafe," she tells Bustle. "I'm really passionate about the feminist movement and keeping women safe. That was an app that was really important to me."
Her own love for STEM bloomed relatively recently. "I started coding in 9th grade with a website called Scratch," she tells Bustle. "It's a website that a lot of teen developers start with, and I really liked it, because I've always liked math and art, and this was a combination of the two: of logic and design. That was when I started to gain traction and experience, because I just fell in love with the subject immediately."
In the short term, Khot is excited for the conference. "I'm really excited for the keynote, but also for the labs that they have there, and my opportunity to contribute with the other developers and show my work to them," she says. Beyond that, she tells Bustle, she's preparing to dip her toe into the world of internships. "It's really great experience and will give me a chance to learn more about the topic of STEM. It's such a wide field that you really need to get a lot of experience before you can get out into the world," she says.
These three women are making real moves in the STEM world — and inspiring a host of other girls along the way. Remember their names; chances are that they'll have a big role to play in the tech innovations of the future.