Written By: Zhao Gu Gammage
COVID-19 has undoubtedly ravaged the country, leaving forty million unemployed, economies crippled, and millions infected. But it’s led to positive changes too, such as the emergence of STEM activism in young people. Teens Shaun Karakkattu and Karina Popovich have both created new mediums to empower women in STEM.
Shaun Karakkattu and Youthomatic
Shaun Karakkattu, a rising senior at BASIS Mesa in Mesa, Arizona, created Youthomatic, a podcast that publicizes youth research and activism in STEM. His first episodes range from researching societal taboo around menstruation in Nepal to the experience of interning at NASA. In his third episode, “STEM Reinvented,” he interviewed members of Reinvented Magazine about their experiences as women in multiple fields in STEM.
Karakkattu started Youthomatic not only because of his love of podcasts but also because he saw a rise in youth leadership in his community in response to the pandemic. He witnessed local students work to support science research and provide local hospitals with medical masks. By creating a podcast, Karakkattu knew he could highlight motivated youth to inspire others to start their own leadership initiatives and pursue their interests.
Youthomatic’s segment about women in STEM spans episodes one to four. The first episode, “Adventures in South Africa & Nepal,” highlights high schooler Sara Kandell’s research surrounding the cultural taboo in South Asia surrounding menstruation. Youthomatic’s second episode, “KEYS to Success in STEM,” focuses on experiences as women in STEM at Arizona State University by following Anissa Ferris and Swapnika Raola’s internship at KEYS (Keep Engaging Youth in Science). Episode Four, “The Life of a High School Researcher,” highlights Erin Clancy, who completed an internship at both KEYS and TGen, a lab that conducts genetic research in Arizona, and Paige Lottman, who won a NASA competition and is president of Plasma Robotics at Red Mountain High School.
Karakkattu hopes to grow his podcast by creating a website, newsletter, and magazine - and attracting listeners from around the country and the globe. Once the podcast gains ground, he wants Youthomatic to serve as a place where people will return to share their experiences. He envisions the podcast becoming a forum where people can share their trials and opportunities, encouraging listeners to learn, improve, and grow. He wants all students, regardless of gender, background, or identity, to be able to envision themselves in STEM.
Karina Popovich, Makers for COVID-19 and More
Karina Popovich, a business student attending Cornell University, created Makers for COVID-19, a group that supports medical workers by 3D printing medical equipment, in addition to her other two projects, Alpha and Proto, focused on STEM activism and benefiting the community.
During the pandemic, she has helped combat the lack of medical equipment by establishing Makers for COVID-19, a group with three hundred members and counting, that makes and delivers face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPE). She has provided thousands of articles of PPE, usually delivering around 200 items per week to the local hospitals in New York City, her hometown and a COVID-19 hotspot in the US. Additionally, she created a guide for others to help make PPE, regardless of access to a 3D printer. She wants to increase activism during this divisive time while also helping frontline workers.
Alpha focuses on empowering women and diversity in STEM by creating clothing that looks stylish and empowers the wearer. Her clothing promotes female empowerment by showcasing female leaders in STEM in addition to instilling confidence in them. Her collection includes 3-D-printed designs, displaying the word “Maker” and two intersecting tools. She created this project to combat the sexism in male-dominated fields and to empower more females to become inspired to enter STEM fields.
Proto gives everyone access to 3-D printing, thereby allowing every student, teacher, and school to have STEM programs. Inspired by her love of 3-D printing, Popovich wanted to share her love of STEM and 3-D printing with other kids, regardless of their economic situation. After teaching at an inner-city preschool in New York, Popovich wanted to help under-funded schools gain access to the same resources in 3-D printing and STEM. Proto serves as a connection between those with access to 3-D printers and those without by serving as a forum where those without 3-D printers can borrow them from those who own them.
Shaun Karakkattu and Karina Popovich exemplify teens who advocate for inclusivity in STEM. Karakkattu created a podcast that promotes youth involvement in STEM and Popovich created programs that empower women to enter STEM. They both demonstrate the power of taking action in local communities, which can have a huge impact and inspire people worldwide.