Budding Female Engineers Invent Solar Powered Tent For The Homeless

Laurel Dammann
Twelve high school girls couldn't afford to give money to help tackle homelessness in their neighborhoods, but they could use their brains and persistence.

dog stands in a clearing in a forest

In the San Fernando Valley of California, the homeless population has increased exponentially over the past few years. It's a problem that is not easy to fix, but it's a problem 12 high school girls decided to take a stab at.

Coming from low-income neighborhoods, donating money to help tackle the homeless crisis was not an option for these girls.

“Because we come from low-income families ourselves, we can’t give them money,” Daniela Orozco, a high school senior, told Mashable.

"We wanted to offer something besides money," her classmate, Veronica Gonzalez, added.

With the help of the nonprofit DIY Girls, an organization that works to empower girls living in low-income areas to pursue STEM careers, Gonzalez, Orozco, and 10 other girls from San Fernando High School developed an idea intended to make life easier for those without a home: a solar powered tent. Their tent stands out for its button-powered lights, USB ports, and a micro USB port.

“Because we live here, we see it growing constantly,” Maggie Mejia said of homelessness in San Fernando Valley. “If your parents miss X amount of bills, you can fall into homelessness, too.”

The teens said they wanted to create something that, if the worst happened and someone was forced to become homeless, they would be somewhat comfortable and have tools that could help them get back on their feet again.

Not one of the high schoolers had attempted engineering before, but they didn't see that as a reason not to try. Using YouTube, Google, and a lot of trial-and-error, they managed to build their own solar powered tent.

"You're learning new things you've never even heard of or even thought of," said Chelly Chavez.

Like the other girls, Chelly had to pick up many skills in the midst of inventing and taught herself the programming language C ++ in order to develop the more technical aspects of the tent.

The results were incredible.

The young inventors won a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to help develop their invention. DIY Girls saw an incredible opportunity to share the tent with a broader audience and raised $15,000 to send the girls to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to present their tent at EurekaFest on June 16. The girls said they are hoping this will be a stepping stone to bigger things for them and for better things for the homeless in America.

According to the National Science Board, only 29 percent of those working in science or engineering are women, and only 6 percent of those women are Hispanic or Latina. Hands-on STEM education for girls is difficult to come by, particularly in low-income areas.

"Me and her, we’re the only two junior girls in our AP Calculus class, which has way more guys than girls," said Paola Valtierra while pointing to Kassandra Salazar, an aspiring astronaut. “But we’re gonna change that.”

The future is scary, but it is so much less scary when you realize amazing young women like these students will be part of shaping it.

Read More: Women Who Work Together: The Importance Of Female Mentorship In STEM