How Four Women In An RV Plan To Change Young Girls’ Lives

This summer, four Stanford students will bring design-thinking workshops to middle-school girls at summer camps across the country.

How Four Women In An RV Plan To Change Young Girls’ Lives
[Photo: via SparkTruck]

If you could get an 11-year-old girl to throw her hands in the air and shout, “Prototype!” or stand on a chair and declare her personal mission statement, you’d want to bottle that formula for confident enthusiasm.


Or, you’d drive it across the country in an RV and take it to young women’s communities around the country, like four students at Stanford University plan to do this summer.

After spending a day helping Stanford’s SparkTruck team coach design and maker workshops for elementary school students in San Francisco last October, students Katie Kirsch and Jenna Leonardo felt inspired. They spent the drive back to campus imagining new ways they could bring design thinking–the creative process of understanding needs, identifying a problem and creating new ways to solve it–to young women’s lives. They asked each other an old motivational prompt: “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

Girls collaborate and build on each other’s ideas during a design-thinking and purpose-learning workshop. Photo: Rachel H. Chung

The result is Girls Driving for a Difference. Together with Rachel Chung and Natalya Thakur, Kirsch and Leonardo plan to take what they’ve learned at Stanford’s to girls’ leadership and summer camps, to coach them on design thinking and host workshops. They’ll use improv games, teaching materials they’ve customized over the course of Bay Area trial-run workshops, and team brainstorming to help their young students answer questions like, “What kind of change do you want to create in the world?” and “How can you begin to achieve that dream today?”

Their Kickstarter became a Staff Pick two days after launch. They’ll cover supply costs and workshop materials with the $25k they hope to raise this month.

Studies show that at some point between nine and 16 years old, girls often go from outspoken, boisterous individuals to shy, self-conscious, and fearful of social judgment. By aiming at middle-school girls specifically, they’re helping to close gender gaps from the start. If they find and hold onto their voices, the girls could grow up to become sharp negotiators, carve paths for more women to break into male-dominated industries, and leave their inner critics behind. The ripple effects of empowering young girls last for a lifetime.

“We believe that there is so much potential in helping people think in more ways than one, and the design-thinking process is what helps us do that,” Kirsch says. “The world is filled with problems that haven’t been solved yet, and it’s going to take more than one approach to figure them out.”


Correction: A previous version misattributed the final quote to Thakur, instead of Kirsch.

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Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.