Students to take design thinking on the road to empower girls

Jan. 21, 2015, 9:32 p.m.

A team of four students called Girls Driving for a Difference will embark on a cross-country roadtrip this summer, aiming to stop at 50 summer camps to empower 10,000 middle school girls using design thinking.

Katie Kirsch ’16 and Jenna Leonardo ’15 came up with the idea for this 10-week immersion on the ride home from teaching a workshop to elementary school students as part of the SparkTruck project. The two had met through Stanford’s Design for America chapter, which Kirsch founded as a freshman.

“We found that there’s so little opportunity [at Stanford] to sit down and have a conversation about things that you’re really interested in and want to accomplish later in life and what dreams or goals you have for a very larger picture, and that was a conversation Jenn and I finally had after two years of working together in DFA that sparked this entire thing,” Kirsch said. “It started off as a joke, like ‘What would we do if we weren’t afraid to do anything?’”

Although the entire route isn’t yet finalized, the team, which also includes Natalya Thakur ’15 and Rachel Chung ’15, will begin prototyping in the Bay Area this month.

“What we’ve learned from groups that have done this sort of project in the past, is that people start coming to you,” Leonardo said. “As soon as we start Kickstarter, I think there will be organizations all over the country that come to us and really want us to go visit them.”

The group aims to raise $25,000 via crowdfunding, but, Kirsch said, that number is a baseline and will cover less than half of total expenses. The team aims to receive additional funding from companies and organizations.

Girls Driving for a Difference has already reached out to a few organizations for support and is applying for a grant. When it comes to approaching organizations, Thakur said that being able to pitch deliverables helps. These include pre- and post-workshop surveys, number of followers on a vlog and post-workshop initiatives.

“The idea is that the deliverable is something that is sustainable beyond the workshop that we do with them,” Thakur said.

Part of this sustainability is what Thakur calls the ripple effect. She hopes that the girls they teach will be able to spread the word themselves in their local communities. The key to making the workshops repeatable, she said, is the design thinking process.

Design thinking consists of five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. It works best when iterated upon, which is why the team has been repeating the process themselves in preparation for the trip.

Tania Anaissie ’14, course production lead at the, has helped Girls Driving for a Difference brainstorm and flesh out ideas. According to her, design thinking is a practical tool that the middle school girls will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“I have this tool that can, with the right resources, help me solve anything,” she said, referring to design thinking. “So the reason why it’s valuable for people to learn that and why we teach it here is you’re empowering someone to face any type of problem.”

While driving around the country teaching others, the four designers hope to gain valuable experience.

“The first workshop will be very different from week 10, just because not only will the middle school girls learn different ways to think about the world and leadership, but we’ll hopefully grow and learn a lot in the 10 weeks that we’re there as well,” Chung said.

They are currently looking for a filmmaker to accompany them on the road.

“We’ll also be making a documentary at the end of the summer as another way to share our message, to be able to reach the girls that we were not necessarily able to personally interact with,” Leonardo said.

Despite any roadblocks that may appear along the way, the team is up for the challenge.

“We’re totally determined to make this happen even if we’re like selling cookies on the side of the street for like a month straight,” Kirsch said.

Leonardo agreed, recalling a moment last quarter that epitomized their dedication when she and Kirsch spent the better part of a Saturday night at the planning this project.

“It’s what we love; it’s what energizes us,” Leonardo said. “We want to be able to share that same energy, that same feeling with girls across the country too.”


Contact Tristan Vanech at tvanech ‘at’


This post has been updated. A previous version stated that the workshop in the second paragraph was related to Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP). SparkTruck is not connected to STVP. The Daily regrets this error.

Tristan Vanech is a sports managing editor and former news desk editor on the campus life beat. A Symbolic Systems major from Venice, CA, Tristan loves playing basketball and football. His most notable accomplishment at The Daily is leading its flag football team as quarterback to break a three-year drought in the annual Ink Bowl against the Daily Cal. Ball is life. Email him at [email protected].

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