17-year-old Karina Popovich didn’t see any other Ukrainian girls in tech — so she decided to do something about it

Karina Popovich founded the organisation Connect With Tech to introduce STEM to communities that haven’t been exposed to the beauty of engineering.

The lack of minority female in the world of science used to intimidate Karina Popovich, a Ukrainian-American student from an immigrant family.

But Karina isn’t the type that gives up. Instead, she decided to turn it into an opportunity.

In her sophomore year of high school, Karina founded Connect With Tech, an organisation that exposes underrepresented communities to the world of STEM by hosting coding workshops, speaker sessions and tech programmes.

Inspired by her electrician father, Karina’s passion for engineering and technology began in third grade. She fell in love with the field during her first school science project, which involved lighting up a bulb. “I thought that was one of the coolest things ever,” Karina recalls.

Education is what can change path, and to me, engineering and the world of technology is what can change my path.
— Karina Popovich

Now as head of Connect With Tech, Karina is encouraging other students to pursue their own experiments. At a recent workshop, members of the club discussed projects they want to work on this semester. One student came up with the idea of inventing a sweater for the elderly, which would have heart-monitoring devices and pulse sensors to track health. Others envisioned helping kids to 3D print their own prosthetics.

The Connect With Tech project that Karina is most proud of is Computers for Tanzania, an initiative with the Hope International School in Moshi, Tanzania.

“Programming and coding is the basics when you enter the world of engineering — it’s not relatively hard to do. It’s inexpensive because most people have computers. But that wasn’t the case for schools in Tanzania, because they have no computers at all,” Karina says.

Aliana Wilson (left) and Angela Zheng (right) working on the DIY computers. (Courtesy of Karina Popovich)

Aliana Wilson (left) and Angela Zheng (right) working on the DIY computers. (Courtesy of Karina Popovich)

Karina first reached out to the Hope International School through a friend and asked if the school needed any help in tech. After learning that they didn’t have the equipment to hold coding lessons, Karina decided to build computers for the school herself.

After intense rounds of online research trying out different methods and countless late nights of trouble-shooting with her team, Karina managed to build five computers from scratch using raspberry pis and display monitors — the total cost was approximately $550. The computers have allowed 30 students to study programming this fall.

“Kids are excited,” says Robert Sabwami, a programming teacher at Hope International School. “What Connect With Tech gave us has been really helpful, in the sense that kids have a platform to work with.”

Karina hopes to send more computers to the school so that not only the students but the whole community can learn to programme. “Education is what can change path, and to me, engineering and the world of technology is what can change my path, and I want to give that opportunity to the people and kids in Tanzania,” Karina says.

Karina Popovich, standing in the middle, at Connect With Tech’s first workshop for the fall 2018 semester. (Courtesy of Bianca He / Malala Fund)

Karina Popovich, standing in the middle, at Connect With Tech’s first workshop for the fall 2018 semester. (Courtesy of Bianca He / Malala Fund)

Grace Li, also a Brooklyn Technical High School senior, helped build the Tanzania computers. “To create something to help out other people — that’s the point of technology, right?” Grace says. “And it’s also pretty fun, too, to create something out of scratch. It’s very rewarding.”

Angela Zheng has also been involved with Connect With Tech since its founding days. “What I learned from here is communication and a little bit of leadership,” Angela says. “From all the different events that Karina has put us through, I was able to speak to people that have more experience than me. I turned from a very shy person to someone who’s willing to talk to people.”

Karina is excited to see what her Connect With Tech peers create next. “I think engineering is a world filled with possibilities,” Karina says. “And I hope that they (club members) can just get a great time solving the world’s and the community’s problems by reaching out and helping others.”

 
 

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About the author

Bianca He is an editorial intern at Malala Fund. In her free time, she reads, hikes and craves for bubble tea.