Our Planet, Our Purpose STEM for Changemaking Youth Summit organized by General Motors & Ashoka. Photo from the General Motors Summit.
Valencia High School

Bytes of Tech: What Jane Goodall taught me about STEM & how it can be used to change the world

Bytes of Tech is a column by Vivian Wang that highlights the role of technology in the lives of Generation Z youths and the ways that youths can bridge the gender gap in STEM. In this week’s article, Wang reflects on her experience chatting with Jane Goodall.

In the age of technology where an entire organization can be led completely virtually, STEM plays a pivotal role in changing the world. When nonprofit organizations and STEM intersect, the magnitude of the organization’s impact is monumental.

From July 22 to July 24, my nonprofit organization, Linens N Love, participated in General Motors & Ashoka’s STEM for Changemaking Youth Summit as one of 25 organizations selected in the nation to attend the summit.

Linens N Love is an internationally-registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to collecting castoff hotel donations of blankets, sheets, pillows and towels to donate to local shelters and charities in need. Leading the youth environmental sustainability movement, Linens N Love connects and empowers over 500 youth leaders from the United States, Canada, India, Bangladesh, Ireland, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

I co-founded Linens N Love in 2014 when I was 12 years old with my older sister, May. As Linens N Love is approaching its sixth year, we are constantly learning and growing from our community of mentors, volunteers, Chapter Presidents and Officers.

While giving back to local and global communities, youth leaders in Linens N Love can also educate themselves simultaneously. For instance, one aspect of our Linens N Love Virtual Volunteering Program focuses heavily on shedding light on environmental and social issues in the form of publishing pieces on our publication.

In the midst of a pandemic, our typical volunteer events have become significantly hindered. While our volunteers from around the world are eager to volunteer and give back to their communities now more than ever, Linens N Love also emphasizes social distancing, especially since many of the shelters that we donate linens to oftentimes support older individuals such as veterans and homeless individuals.

Linens N Love at the 2019 Summer Kickoff Delivery. Imaged provided by Vivian Wang.
Linens N Love at the 2019 Summer Kickoff Delivery. Imaged provided by Vivian Wang.

As we look towards STEM to plan for our 10 Year Goal, we’re considering all aspects of STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. During the General Motors and Ashoka STEM for Changemaking Youth Summit, Shweta Shah, Celeste Esqueda and I participated in mentorship sessions with professionals from General Motors and Ashoka to learn about how we can leverage STEM to amplify our impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we initially only considered the technology aspect of STEM, our mentors encouraged us to “zoom-out” and think bigger.

Could we apply and share scientific findings to host a workshop on the effect of landfills on our earth? Would it be possible to engineer a simple, streamlined way of collecting and donating these linens first at a local level and then bringing it to a global level if feasible? Can we quantify our impact by calculating and conducting research on the carbon footprint of linens thrown into the landfills in a specific geographic region such as California?

Our Linens N Love group chat was overflowing with ideas and notifications after the mentorship session with the General Motors and Ashoka representatives. The opportunities to change the world with the power of STEM are endless.

“The disciplines taught in STEM-related fields are seen in our everyday lives. We see them on the road, in our schools, in the way we conduct simple lab experiments. These disciplines, combined with creative thinking, have done good for us already, so they’re bound to push us even further into a better future with the help of STEM-inspired changemakers,” Celeste Esqueda, Chapter President at Yorba Linda Linens N Love, said.

During the General Motors & Ashoka STEM for Changemaking Youth Summit, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Jane Goodall, a primatologist who studied wild chimpanzees in Tanzania. Known for her organization called “Roots & Shoots,” Dr. Jane Goodall has been on hundreds of journeys around the world to study chimpanzees.

After speaking with Dr. Goodall, I realized how much still needs to be done to improve our world, whether it be in her stories about her push for gender equality or her anecdotes about genuine passion and drive for connecting individuals under a common cause.

“What do you believe it means to truly live life to the fullest? How has your journey so far influenced your overall outlook on life?
” I asked Dr. Goodall during the summit. Before attending the summit, my view on connecting Linens N Love with STEM was very limited, but Dr. Goodall opened the window of possibilities to me, Shweta and Celeste.

“While STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, it can also mean Sustainability for The Earth that Matters. The Our Planet Our Purpose summit has taught me the myriad of ways humans can use their innovations and minds to bring Earth back to its original glory and prestige… The pandemic that we brought onto ourselves, according to Dr. Jane Goodall, whom I had the privilege and honor to meet. She started with conservation and now tackles issues such as poverty, education, and women’s rights. It is her path we must take as Linens N Love forges a path in changing the world for the better. We must take small steps as sometimes they make the biggest difference,” Shweta Shah, Chapter President of the Valencia High School Linens N Love Chapter, said shortly after the summit.

My Linens N Love team and I are making lemonade out of life’s quarantine lemons right now with the power of STEM. I have the constant reminder of Dr. Jane Goodall’s stories in the back of my mind, realizing that she’s fused environmental sustainability, women’s rights advocacy, leadership and STEM into her story and legacy that continues to evolve with each day.

STEM is the language of our future and now is the time to change the world with a bit of STEM magic.