8 inspiring girls making an impact on STEM and education
Alyssa Carson, the 13-year-old on a mission to Mars

8 inspiring girls making an impact on STEM and education

11 Oct 2014

What better day than 11 October, the UN’s International Day of the Girl Child, to celebrate eight remarkable young women and girls who have only just begun to make their mark.

Alyssa Carson

US teen Alyssa Carson is determined to be on NASA’s first mission to bring humans to Mars, currently planned for 2033. By that time, 13-year-old Carson will be in her early thirties, with almost three decades of preparation under her belt. 

Carson’s dream began at the age of four and she and her father Bert Carson have already got the next 20 years of training mapped out. On her blog, NASA Blueberry, she lists her many achievements over the past nine years, including participation in numerous space camps both in the US and internationally.

“Failure is not an option,” she told the BBC.

Currently in the seventh grade in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Carson is studying science, maths, French, Spanish and Chinese, and somehow finds time for piano lessons and football training as well. 

Carson’s goal is not just a pipe dream, as NASA spokesperson Paul Foreman said that young aspirational astronauts like her are taken very seriously, and he reckons Carson is on the right track to make her a prime candidate for NASA’s mission to Mars.

Carson was even included on a panel discussion on future missions to Mars in Washington DC and spoke at a TEDx conference in Greece. As an ambassador for the Mars One programme, she is aware of missions from which astronauts will not return and has already discussed this prospect with her father.

It seems there is nothing to sway this young woman’s determination to take the first steps on the Red Planet as she proudly proclaims, “I am the Mars generation.”

Lauren Boyle

Dubliner Lauren Boyle is an advocate for girls in STEM, founder of Cool Kids Studio and the developer of this initiative’s three websites. She’s also just nine years old.

Boyle’s websites are all focused on teaching life skills to children aged three to 12. The original Cool Kids Studio has advice on what to do on a rainy day, how to deal with bullies, making friends and meditation, and after just a few months online had already received thousands of hits. Boyle has since branched out with a sister site focused on healthy eating and a maker site.

Lauren Boyle, founder, Cool Kids Studio

As a resource for kids developed by a kid, Boyle’s websites are as useful for parents and educators as they are for the target audience. She has even presented a proposal to Minister of State for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English, TD, suggesting that Cool Kids Studio become part of the primary education curriculum to address ‘emotional learning’.

Cool Kids Studio was recognised in the websites category at this year’s CoderDojo Coolest Projects Awards and Boyle has also been shortlisted as an EU Digital Girl of the Year finalist. Recently, she was presented with a Next Generation Award for Excellence at the Irish Internet Association’s Dot IE Net Visionary Awards.

Tyriah Allison

At just 11 years old, Tyriah Allison became the youngest-ever founder of a CoderDojo, a volunteer-led initiative to teach kids how to code. Inspired by this movement, Allison – a self-taught and experienced Python coder – emailed Torsten Reil, CEO of NaturalMotion, a tech and games company with its headquarters in Oxford, England.

Allison was a fan of NaturalMotion’s Clumsy Ninja game, as were many of her peers, and she hoped Reil would be willing to help her set up a dojo for kids in the area. Reil instantly said yes and rounded up volunteers to mentor the first session of CoderDojo Oxford, which was hosted at NaturalMotion’s HQ in March this year.

Torsten Reil, CEO, NaturalMotion with Tyriah Allison, founder, CoderDojo Oxford

Tyriah Allison pictured with NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil at the first CoderDojo Oxford

Silicon Republic’s CEO and editor-at-large Ann O’Dea was present at this inaugural event and was blown away by born leader Allison, who confidently led her peers through the basics of computer programming. O’Dea learned that the primary school student has been coding since the age of nine and attends the annual Festival of Code organised by Young Rewired State, an independent global network of self-taught coders aged 18 and under.

Ciara Judge, Sophie Healy-Thow and Émer Hickey

While it may seem strange to lump these three teenage schoolgirls together on this list, it’s apt as many of their stellar achievements have been made as a team.

It began with them being crowned champions at the 2013 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition for their project, Combating the Global Food Crisis: Diazotroph bacteria as a cereal crop growth promoter.

This biological study investigated the use of diazotroph bacteria as a cereal crop germination and growth aid. The girls’ results indicated that naturally occurring Rhizobium strains of the diazotroph bacteria family could accelerate germination by up to 50pc, or even more in the case of barley.

The project went on to win first prize in biology at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Prague last September and, in September this year, the girls achieved international acclaim with the top prize at the Google Science Fair.

Of course, none of these glowing accolades came as a surprise to us at Silicon Republic, as we had already noted Judge, Healy-Thow and Hickey as ‘Ones to Watch’ on our list of 100 Top Women in STEM and presented each of them with a Rising Star award.

Sophie Healy-Thow, Émer Hickey and Ciara Judge

Sophie Healy-Thow, Émer Hickey and Ciara Judge pictured at Google Dublin

When they’re not being pulled away for public speaking engagements and awards ceremonies, Ireland’s top young scientists are now completing their education at Kinsale Community School, Co Cork as well as helping their peers as members of the Digital Youth Council.

Catrina Carrigan

Another of Silicon Republic’s Rising Star award winners, teenager Catrina Carrigan learned to code through CoderDojo and has now become a mentor for CoderDojo Girls, passing on her knowledge to more young girls.

Catrina Carrigan accepts her Silicon Republic Rising Star Award

Intel Ireland general manager Eamonn Sinnott presents Catrina Carrigan with her Rising Star Award

After a year of attending weekly dojos at Dublin City University, Carrigan had already established herself as a noted young programmer when a website she developed for the Coolest Project Awards was selected by UK educators to help teach others how to code.

The website, Piano Rock Star, was built when Carrigan was just 15 using HTML, CSS and JavaScript and lets users ‘play’ musical instruments such as a piano, guitar and drums. Just as Carrigan learned by doing through building this website, e-Skills UK and Intel built a short course around it to teach algorithms as part of Behind the Screen, an employer-led initiative to equip GCSE computing students with the right technical and soft skills.

Interview with teen developer Catrina Carrigan

By her own admission, Carrigan may have never discovered her aptitude for technology if not for CoderDojo – and what a loss that would have been. Continuing to apply her skills to help other people, Carrigan’s latest projects include a business continuity app for a hospital and a social network for studying.

Now 18 years old, Carrigan is currently studying for her Leaving Certificate exams in Scoil Chaitríona Glasnevin, Dublin.

Malala Yousafzai

A list of inspiring young women simply wouldn’t be complete without education activist Malala Yousafzai, who this week became the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the award with children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

Two years ago, at the age of 15, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman at point-blank range as she was making her way home from school in her hometown of Mingora in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Miraculously, she survived.

Alongside her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who ran the very girls’ school she was attending, Yousafzai has been a champion of education for girls since the age of 11, despite fundamentalist pressure to exclude young women from education in Pakistan.

Yousafzai’s story has been documented in her book, I Am Malala, but this single exchange between she and interviewer Jon Stewart summarises her strength and bravery in the struggle to gain access to education for all children, even when her life is threatened.

Yousafzai currently lives in Birmingham, England and last year she visited Ireland to receive the Tipperary Peace Award and was honoured as a global symbol of a girl’s right to education.

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke is editor of Silicon Republic, having served a few years as managing editor up to 2019. She joined in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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