What’s more impressive than a youth starting a nonprofit? How about a young girl starting a nonprofit all about coding and technology? That’s exactly what Smriti Somasundaram did when she founded DOT4Kids, an “organization increasing diversity in STEM through exposing kids of different underrepresented backgrounds to STEM careers and opportunities through original STEAM curriculum.” Since its founding, Smriti has expanded what the nonprofit is all about, thanks to partnerships with other local organizations.
When she was 11 years old, Smriti was already interested in coding and technology, but she said she really got hooked in seventh grade, when she learned about the Technovation Challenge, a contest for young girls to “learn and apply the skills needed to solve real-world problems through technology.” Smriti had no coding experience when she entered the contest. “I watched endless YouTube videos and spent hours and hours trying to code my first android app on MIT App Inventor,” she says about her challenge experience. “This challenge pushed me beyond my limits to explore what I love and create an app to help the community. I ended up creating Everyday Care, an android application to help kids with autism complete their everyday activities.”
The challenge was the catalyst that launched this young entrepreneur on her current path. “From that starting point, as my passion developed, I began reaching out to professionals in the field and gaining new insight,” she explains. “Slowly, my knowledge of coding increased, with new languages like Swift, Java, and Python.”
From Coding to Incubating Change
Smriti could have just played around with code at home or at STEM summer camps. But a tour of the Amazon Headquarters for middle school girls near the end of her eighth-grade year revealed something to her. “There were only three other girls who attended,” she says. “Three! Later, I found out that many other students didn’t know about these kinds of opportunities or they didn’t have access to the resources. I was fortunate enough to have access to technology resources and many of these opportunities so I wanted to help guide others to similar resources and go a step further to introduce many young individuals to the tech world through coding.” It was this thought that was the catalyst for her nonprofit, DOT4Kids (Discover Opportunities in Technology for kids), that she started when she was just 13. “I started the nonprofit DOT4Kids to help expose young individuals to the exciting opportunities in the technology field,” she adds.
As you can imagine, starting a nonprofit at 13 is not easy. Smriti says she had a lot of challenges, including having to quickly learn how to be a professional when contacting businesses and organizations, not to mention learning about finances and financial processes for grants. DOT4Kids is now fiscally sponsored by TOGETHER!.
But the hardest part, she says, had to do with speaking to her peers. “The biggest challenge was being on the other side of workshops and learning to create that peer-to-peer connection while teaching them about coding,” Smriti explains. “It was a big learning curve, but I had amazing mentors like Dan Smith and Mary McBride who guided me throughout the new experience.”
DOT4Kids has partnered with other organizations and schools including Shooting Stars Foundation, South Sound YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington, CIELO, TOGETHER!, and the Girl Scouts, Aspire Middle School and Tumwater Middle School to reach over 650 kids across the nation while raising money for the education of underprivileged students in India.
Smriti says COVID-19 did cause some issues with their workshops, though computer-based, she still found the virtual setting made it hard to connect with individuals. However, there was a positive to it as well. “It also meant that I could reach students not only in Washington, but in other states and countries as well,” she explains. “I started running week-long camps and two-day workshops to make up for the challenges of virtual learning and students were still successfully able to complete every challenge and every new lesson. Throughout the pandemic, I have also been able to raise more than $5,000 through grants and workshops to help students learn in any circumstance, virtual or not.”
Now an incoming high school senior, Smriti plans on continuing her nonprofit work, even after high school. She is hoping for more partnerships with organizations, as well as student ambassadors who share the same passion as she does for teaching and helping peers learn more about coding and computer technology. In addition, she plans on continuing her education at a four-year college, pursing a degree in computer science.
To learn more about upcoming workshops, and partnership and ambassador opportunities, visit the DOT4Kids website.