Stephanie Lazaro, a 7th grader at RCMA Leadership Academy in Wimauma, and Nicole Perez-Flores, an 8th grader at Bell Creek Academy in Riverview, are developing a Handbot grabbing device with a prosthetic arm to help farmworkers, the elderly and others.
“Me and my teammates, we have families that worked in the fields. They had back pain,” explains 13-year-old Lazaro, who wants to become an engineer. “We wanted to do something so we can help them.”
“No one deserves to suffer,” adds 13-year-old Perez-Flores, who aspires to be an entrepreneur.
Both girls are planning to attend the inaugural Social Entrepreneurs Education Day Saturday, October 20, at Hillsborough Community College’s SouthShore Campus in Ruskin. Some 125 middle school, high school and college students will be narrowing in on social problems they want to solve, forming teams and developing prototypes in the day-long event.
“This particular program works with high-energy creative young people and allows us to put them up on a pedestal, taking on some of the biggest challenges facing our society,” says Andy Gold, Ph.D., who is Co-Founder of Operation Startup and Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Management at HCC.
“I think it will be a really inspiring day on a number of different levels,” he adds.
SEED Day by Operation Startup, a partnership between HCC and Hillsborough County, is free and open to the public. For more information, or to register, visit the Operation Startup website.
Though this is the first SEED Day, the job of teaching youths about social entrepreneurship is well underway.
Mary Beth Kerly, Co-Founder of Operation Startup, and Tracy Zuluaga, Executive Director of the Valrico-based Bright Young Minds Coalition, have been collaborating on social entrepreneurship instruction and mentoring. Both are involved in a Verizon Innovative Learning initiative, which included a summer camp Lazaro and Perez-Flores attended.
During a Verizon summer camp, Lazaro, Perez-Flores and their team had to choose a development goal that solved a problem, Zuluaga says. The other team members were Kelly Ahuexoteco, Areli Gonzalez and Viridiana Guzman.
“The program had so much impact that it’s difficult to quantify. We saw shy, introverted middle school girls blossom into confident, empowered young ladies,” Kerly says.
Lazaro learned “you can identify ways to take action using what you have, who you know, and what you know,” Kerly points out.
“During the design thinking process, she and her team came up with at least 30 ideas of how to solve that problem," Kerly adds.
The girls, whose team won first place during summer camp, still are refining the product as they progress through the program this school year. For now, they have a prosthetic hand that can reach out, but not grab anything.
“We will hopefully make it so it will be able to do so much more,” Perez-Flores adds.