Megan works with children through GEARup4Youth, photo courtesy of Megan Loh
California School of the Arts

GEARup4Youth: the community one high schooler founded to tackle the gender and socioeconomic gaps in the tech industry

Even though coding and technology often seem like individual activities dependent on an abundance of resources, Megan Loh, an avid Girl Scout and a junior at Troy High School has turned these seemingly complex and lofty topics into captivating and accessible lessons to K-6 grade students across all communities. Her special formula? Dedication, creativity, and the ability to take action and turn her ideas into reality.

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Megan works with children to build Lego robots through GEARup4Youth (Photo courtesy of Megan Loh)

Despite developing a passion for science and technology early on through Legos and Rubik’s cubes, at her first technology-related summer camp in elementary school, Megan found herself being the one of the the only two girls within a class of 20. As she got older, she discovered that the gender gap she noticed wasn’t limited to that individual camp, but rather a bigger issue that was prevalent beyond subsequent camps and the technology industry.

“In my middle school years, I learned that women only hold about 15 percent of tech-related jobs, while minorities and the underprivileged only account for 5 percent. I yearned to lessen the gender gap. I wanted to do something, anything, to make a change no matter how big or small, and the idea of creating GEARup4Youth was born,” Megan said.

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(Photo courtesy of Megan Loh)

Taking ideas and turning them into reality, Megan founded GEARup4Youth in 2015. Starting from a girls-only programming lesson at her local library, GEARup4Youth has since reached over 6,500 girls, hosting events, family events, expos, field trips, and weekly classes where girls learn to program and engineer Lego robots. Through family events, parents can learn how to best support their daughters in an industry that is rapidly growing in complexity and size, but not always growing fast enough in bridging the gender divide.

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Introducing girls to coding (Photo courtesy of Megan Loh)

“GEARup4Youth’s mission is to close the gender gap in technology and computing and to fight the gender stereotype. In order to do this, not only do I need to provide learning opportunities for the girls around my community, but I also need to educate their families to encourage them to support their children in pursuing their passions,” Megan said. “It breaks my heart when girls tell me that their families think coding and robotics are for men only.”

Working to bridge both the gender divide and the socioeconomic disparities, she sought out partnerships with Boys and Girls Clubs and recruited volunteers. To combat the short attention spans of children, she brought out the beauty of coding through imaginative and creative approaches that had drawn her to coding when she was a child, hoping to inspire even children who didn’t have access to computers at home or know what programming was.

As she challenged the girls to build Lego bees that could fly and used dance steps to reinforce programming concepts, she began to see the fruits of her labor. Students who once turned away from her lessons now begged her for longer time to work on robots, and students who once never knew what coding was shared their aspirations to build robots in the future. Through word of mouth, she found GEARup4Youth gaining recognition among the underrepresented community, and with a team of 130 volunteers from 25 different schools, Megan continues to make coding a fun and accessible possibility for all students regardless of gender or socioeconomic circumstances. Recently, she and her team even brought robotics to a small town in Malaysia, awakening possibilities in children who had never seen robots before.

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GEARup4Youth in Malaysia

“There is nothing more extraordinary than the feeling of making a difference in a girl’s life. A simple act such as teaching what I’m passionate about can make so much of a difference to the girls around me — it’s thrilling,” Megan said. “Creating this nonprofit has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Not only have I gained the friendship of volunteers who share my passion, but I have also captured the love of the girls I’ve taught. Teaching these girls has taught me that people of different backgrounds, cultures, and languages can all learn and thrive in their shared passion for technology.”

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Megan poses with some of the students (Photo courtesy of Megan Loh)

Seeking to expand her reach, she encourages others to get involved in her mission to bring tech education by starting a GEARup4Youth chapter in their area, volunteer with GEARup4Youth, or contribute donation to help GEARup4Youth reach even more students. Megan also made it easy for teachers and parents to help cultivate an interest in STEM at home by compiling a collection of easy science activities to do at home in a book that she authored and sells to raise money for GEARup4Youth.

Through her experiences, Megan said that the most important thing she learned was that anyone has the potential to make a difference in the world no matter how young or old they are. She encourages others, especially girls, to follow their dreams and take action to make the world a better place.

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(Photo courtesy of Megan Loh)

Oftentimes, the problems in the world seem so huge and insurmountable, especially when we’re just high schoolers that are too often told that we are too young to understand. The impact GEARup4Youth has had, and especially the fact that it was started by someone just like us, proves that even as high schoolers, we have the capacity to use our skills and resources to create a positive impact in the lives around us.

Learn more about GEARup4Youth at: gearup4youth.org.

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