Launching a Student Hackathon: A Chat with the Inspire2Dev Founder

Spotlight on STEM Teen Entrepreneur Charlotte Law

I am excited to introduce you to Inspire2Dev, a student-run STEM volunteer organization founded by Charlotte Law, a rising senior at Dougherty Valley High School in California. Inspire2Dev is dedicated to providing middle schoolers a welcoming and supportive environment for learning about STEM topics through events like free online hackathons and coding immersions, where they can develop creative projects with the help of mentors.

I’ve gotten to know Charlotte through her work running hackathons for middle school students. She is an excellent example of a combination STEM volunteer and teen entrepreneur who is contributing to the computer science education of middle schoolers. And she has some surprising interests and accomplishments outside of her STEM leadership work! I am honored to showcase the great work she and her organization are doing and share her advice if you’d like to do something similar.

Inspire2Dev logo

Read on for my Q&A with Charlotte Law.

 

How did you get interested in STEM, and computer science specifically?

I love STEM, and I really enjoy exploring my interests in computer science, artificial intelligence, and biotech, as well as the humanities, like languages. I’m currently a bioengineering intern at the Stanford University School of Medicine. At Stanford, I attend faculty lectures in this field, and I’m biodesigning a prototype that addresses a specific medical need. 

I’ve been interested in STEM and coding since middle school. I was the captain of a Cybersecurity Team in which we scored top percentages nationally. In 2021, I was selected as a cohort leader for a global Artificial Intelligence initiative hosted by creAItivity, and was later promoted to CEO. In 2020, I established a STEM Chapter and have been serving as a Chapter Director for a year-round STEM Educational Program. 

I’m excited to lead Inspire2Dev, which provides a supportive environment for middle school students from anywhere in the country to learn more about STEM topics and collaborate with others to create innovative and meaningful projects. I’m looking forward to seeing many smiles at our upcoming online hackathon and working with students who are eager to develop projects using their creativity.

What was your reason for starting Inspire2Dev?

When I attended hackathons in middle school, I noticed that most of them were open to high school students, college students, and industry professionals. Even though some welcomed younger students, many middle school students felt intimidated, as other participants were potentially more experienced and knowledgeable. I started Inspire2Dev with the goal of making a positive impact in our community by providing STEM learning opportunities and events, like hackathons, for middle school students nationwide. 

What was the process like, going from an idea to a fully launched organization?

It all started with my personal passion and wanting to provide a supportive learning environment for younger students. I wanted to provide these STEM opportunities both to local communities and to communities around the nation. Because of the ambitious goal I had in mind, I knew that my idea would need the support of an organization and that was the beginning of Inspire2Dev. 

I created a website and started recruiting like-minded peers to join Inspire2Dev. After forming a leadership team, I established the main communication platform (in this case, Slack). For planning events, it’s crucial to find event platforms (we used Gather and Zoom), and resources like speakers, mentors, and funding. Additionally, sharing our first hackathon event through social media and reaching out to various communities and advocates in the STEM field was important if we were going to reach students who might benefit from this event. It was through outreach that I met you, Cyndi, and you have helped tremendously with your support of Inspire2Dev’s mission and events. 

After launching Inspire2Dev, I organized and hosted the organization’s first Summer Hackathon in 2021. Now, a year later, we have hosted two large events, reaching students from all over the nation and receiving 100+ positive parent and student testimonials. We’re excited to host our third event (our annual Summer Hackathon) on August 6, 2022, and expand our outreach internationally! Sign up here to attend this free event.

Was there anything that surprised you during this experience? 

Yes—I didn’t expect the amount of positive support in the STEM community and the number of people who were willing to help out, whether they were my peers, industry professionals, or students from other countries. I was surprised by the number of like-minded peers I was able to meet by reaching out in various STEM communities. 

What do hackathon participants and their parents say about the events?

Both students and parents have commented positively about the value of the mentors, who helped them work on their project and understand coding. Parents, in particular, appreciated our mentorship to students who have little to no experience, helping them navigate their first project and allowing them to explore and enjoy the world of STEM. Many parents mentioned that the events were thoroughly organized remotely, that their students enjoyed their time while learning, and that they liked that students who lived 2000 miles apart could work together. Students appreciated how interactive the workshop speakers were, and enjoyed meeting the diverse innovators and STEM leaders. Many said they were inspired to learn more about STEM and CS, and have returned to other events. Our website has many testimonials from students and parents who want to inspire others to join our programs 

Do you have tips for teens who might want to start their own organization?

My number one tip is, don’t be afraid to reach out. Reaching out to communities, your peers, and connections for support is important, because more support brings greater impact, and creates greater reach for your messaging. In fact, I met two of my leadership team members at past STEM events (hackathons and fellowships); when I contacted them, they were inspired by the mission, and wanted to be part of the effort. 

Another tip that I have is, be open-minded. It’s important to listen to your whole team and take into account everyone’s feedback so you can improve the organization. Additionally, even if you’re founding a STEM/CS organization, team members without CS or coding experience can contribute in many meaningful ways. It’s crucial to have a diverse leadership team, as all our different perspectives and strengths contribute to our mission. 

What do you do when you’re not working on STEM projects?

I’m interested in figure skating, languages, and literature. I’ve figure skated for almost 10 years, and I recently was awarded the US Figure Skating Gold Medal. I also work as a figure skating coach, teaching younger skaters. As for linguistics, I’m interested in the power that languages hold in shaping our world, our perspectives, and our experiences. I’m working on a goal to learn Chinese, French, Japanese, and Cyrillic languages, among others. And my current favorite books are Beloved, by Toni Morrison, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, and Severance, by Ling Ma. 

Some Closing Thoughts

I love that Charlotte identified a need for middle school hackathons and then made them happen—on a national and now even international scale! Of course, if you see a need in your community, you do not have to scale it up right away (or at all). Just meeting a local need can do a lot of good, and can make the organization more manageable if you’re new to entrepreneurship. 

I was interested in her advice to use good collaboration skills in setting up an organization: reaching out to a large constituency, working with a diverse leadership team, listening to everyone’s ideas, and incorporating them into the organization to make it stronger. These are lessons that even seasoned entrepreneurs often struggle with. 

Finally, I’m glad that the focus of Inspire2Dev is on students in middle school. Middle school is an important time for keeping kids—especially girls—interested in STEM. Hosting collaborative events where students work on projects with their peers is a great way to engage them and help them learn. And because the Inspire2Dev events are free and virtual, everyone can participate! 

Curious about starting your own STEM organization and want ideas and inspiration? Read my guide for teens interested in starting their own STEM volunteer organization. 

Want to learn more about STEM volunteering and get ideas for yourself? Take a look at 10 STEM Volunteering & Community Service Ideas for High School Students.

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