How many teenagers can say they got accepted into all 8 Ivy League colleges, maintained a 4.5 GPA, nearly scored a perfect 2400 on the SATs and started a nonprofit organization? Not us...
But Pooja Chandrashekar can! We reached out to the 18-year-old dynamo, who is pretty much the definition of #BUILTBYGIRLS to learn all about her nonprofit organization, ProjectCSGIRLS, and how she's basically taking the world by storm.
C: What was your first reaction when you found out you got into all 8 Ivy League colleges? Did you expect that?
PC: "I definitely never expected to! I just wanted to get into one and I was so shocked when I got into all eight. I opened my letters online with my parents, who were probably screaming in excitement more than I was at the time."
C: Congrats on choosing Harvard! We know you had a lot of prestigious colleges as options, but what made you go with Harvard?
PC: "Thank you! It was a really difficult decision for me that came down to the last day, but I ended up just going with my gut. After narrowing it down, my final decision was between Harvard and Stanford. I loved both schools, had a great time at both admit weekends, and knew both had the resources and community I was looking for. So in the end, it was just something that I went with my gut on!"
C: How did ProjectCSGIRLS come about? Was it something that you've always had a vision for?
PC: "I started ProjectCSGIRLS my sophomore year of high school mainly as a result of my own experiences facing the tech gender gap. I remember looking around my AP Computer Science class on my very first day of high school and being shocked to realize that I was one of only three girls in the class, which was surprising especially in a school as science and tech-focused as mine. I noticed the same pattern in my technical work experiences as well, when I often found myself to be the only female engineer in the room, so I wanted to give younger girls a platform where they could use technology to change the world. I noticed that girls have a tendency to gravitate towards ways they can help others, so at ProjectCSGIRLS we challenge middle school girls to use technology and computer science to address a social problem. We run a national computer science competition for middle school girls (registration for our 2016 competition will be opening in September!) and host workshops around the country. We're completely youth-driven by high school and college students from around the country and we were able to reach over 800 girls through our 2015 competition and workshops."
C: You're a prodigy! Have you always been this driven? (Also, how did you maintain a 4.57 GPA AND nearly scored a perfect SAT score?)
PC: "I've always been pretty determined with academics, but I've definitely had to work on time management over the years as I came to balance more activities like research and ProjectCSGIRLS, while also finding time to relax and recharge. Sometimes it can be challenging, but I do everything that I do because I love it and because I believe it can truly make a difference. I always tell people that if you're driven by passion, you'll find a way to make it all work!"
C: People usually assume parents are the ones who force kids to be studious, but how much did your parents play a role in what you do today?
PC: "My parents certainly didn't force me to be studious, but when I was younger they made sure that I was aware of all the opportunities around me and could take advantage of them. They always told me to pursue what I was interested in and always supported and encouraged me in my endeavors. They're also both engineers, so they were definitely role models for me growing up."
C: What was your dream job when you were younger?
PC: "When I was younger, my dream jobs were everything from ballerina to astronaut, but sometime in elementary school I became fascinated by the idea of becoming a physician. Since then, I've become increasingly set on pursuing medicine in combination with technology and business. I'd love to pursue an MD/MBA in preparation for a career as a physician developing innovative healthcare technologies."
C: How has the reaction been to ProjectCSGIRLS?
PC: "It's been absolutely amazing! This past year we reached over 500 girls nationally through our competition and over 300 girls nationally through our workshops held around the country. We've partnered with other leading women in tech organizations like Girl Develop It, NCWIT, and Code.org and have secured corporate sponsorship from companies like Society for Science and the Public, Mapbox, and Northrop Grumman, to name a few. It's so rewarding when parents come up to me and say that ProjectCSGIRLS changed their daughter's life and erased her stereotype of the nerdy-looking male engineer."
C: We absolutely love and support ProjectCSGIRLS! It goes hand in hand with our #BUILTBYGIRLS mission.
PC: "I think #BUILTBYGIRLS is such a fantastic program and mission. To me, #BUILTBYGIRLS is something that really has the power to change the stereotypes regarding girls in technology and can give them the resources, support, and community to develop into innovative creaters, makers, and thinkers. One of the biggest things that a program like #BUILTBYGIRLS can accomplish is giving girls role models. By showcasing the amazing things that girls have built, you're truly giving girls the role models and confidence they need."
C: Tell us a little about your new nonprofit, Built IT for Health.
PC: "Build IT for Health (www.builditforhealth.org) aims to connect high school students with health-focused organizations, NGOs, and companies to develop unique technology solutions to challenging healthcare issues. We partner with organizations dedicated to improving the quality of, and access to, healthcare."
C: We know all about your awesome grades. Tell us about your hobbies.
PC: "I love art and I'm a pretty good artist! I used to paint pretty regularly at an art studio a few years ago, but haven't had much free time to devote to it recently so I'm hoping to get back to it in college. My calligraphy skills are also always in high demand with my friends. Something a lot of people don't know about me is that I love everything Bollywood, from Bollywood music to Bollywood movies to Bollywood dance!"
With all that Pooja has accomplished already at just 18, she's going to be the subject of many follow-up stories on Cambio, we imagine!