(July 23, 2022) Michelle Obama’s letter holds a prominent place, right above the desk of Indian-American teenager, Samaira Mehta. Her inspiring words help the teen in STEM to stay motivated towards her big goals. “In her letter, she said that the work I have been doing for the community was really fantastic, and how, as a young person, it’s important for me to give back to the community from which I have received so much,” Samaira tells Global Indian while connecting from California, a few days after making it to Times Square Nasdaq billboard for ‘World Reimagining Podcast’.
Master of coding
The 14-year-old, grade nine student of Archbishop Mitty High School, was introduced to the world of coding by her engineer father at age six. Her amazing grasp on the subject led her to create the board game CoderBunnyz – to help kids learn coding.
The educational fun game struck the right chord with kids as young as four, wherein they had to move the bunny pieces along the board to reach the goal of eating carrots, and hopping to their final destination. In the process, they learnt basic coding concepts that are significant for computer programming. Starting with $1,000 investment, the unique selling proposition converted into exponential sales figure of CoderBunnyz. “So far my board games have impacted one million kids,” says the California-based entrepreneur, who used to pack each order that came through her website in the initial days. As the demand burgeoned, she contracted the entire packaging and shipping responsibility. Her board games can be ordered on Amazon.
Teaching coding and AI through play
Four years ago, Samaira created another board game CoderMindz. Just as CoderBunnyz simplified complex concepts of coding, CoderMindz streamlines concepts of artificial intelligence. “There was no board game in the entire world that taught the concepts of AI. I’ve created the first ever board game that does so,” says the proud entrepreneur. Later, she developed CoderMarz – a doorway to understand Mars and the outer world through fun astronaut and neural adventure.
“Often when you think about coding or artificial intelligence, you associate them with something that’s hard and takes years of schooling and lots of experience,” says the girl who wanted to introduce coding and AI in a fun format that makes kids comfortable with learning. “While playing, the entire process becomes easier, and much more simplified leading to better understanding,” emphasises Samaira.
A young scientist
It’s not just coding that attracts Samaira, she is also into innovation. She bagged the first position at the California State Science Fair where her project on automatic assessment of ovarian cancer and other related assessments using deep learning was chosen out of 4,000 projects across California. Recently 3M Young Scientist Challenge, America’s premier science competition, announced her name in the 2022 top 10 national finalists list.
Honours and recognitions have been raining on Samaira, including the Davidson Fellowship. “It is United States’ most prestigious undergraduate scholarship which I got for creating a very novel, unique and one-of-a-kind mechanism to simplify concepts of artificial intelligence,” beams the teen.
Having recognised by the Santa Clara Board of Education for her contribution in STEM, she is keen to bring girls in STEM in forefront with her work. “You only see men or boys in computer science, we don’t see many girls in the field. My aim is to engage young girls too,” says the prodigy who has conducted over five hundred workshops on coding – in schools, libraries, community events and in organisations like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, SAP, Walmart, and IBM. Her workshops were not just confined to California but took her to places like Chicago, New York, Spain and London.
Her efforts to make an impact grabbed the attention of the United Nations headquarters where she was invited to speak on International Women’s Day 2020. Calling it an honour, she is happy that she could represent girls in technology at a global platform. “Right now, there’s a huge gap in women in technology. They brought me in to represent and encourage more women in this field,” elaborates Samaira who was also a part of the C2 Montréal Conference in 2019.
Going an extra mile
Her first cash award of $2,500 at Think Tank Learning’s Pitchfest was not only invested in her company but some of it was donated in charities that work for homelessness and food crisis in San Francisco. “Since then, I have received many awards but the one at Pitchfest launched me into who I am today.” At a young age, she had understood philanthropy and regularly donates a portion of her revenue towards impacting the lives of the underprivileged.
She has now introduced BossBizz – a two-week programme – which she holds a few times every year wherein she helps youngsters charter their path into entrepreneurship. “At the end of the two weeks, the participants pitch their company ideas to me and a panel of judges, and I provide seed funding to these companies to take their fantastic ideas of saving lives or working on solutions to crucial problems forward,” says the multifaceted teen, adding. “In the past few years, I’ve invested over $20,000 in such companies.”
One billion kids can code
It’s her non-profit mission that she started with the goal of helping a billion kids around the world gain access to coding tools and coding education. “Even though everyone is not going to choose to become a coder when they grow, the understanding of basic coding will make them better thinkers, leaders and problem solvers in whatever path they choose,” she remarks. A series of educational tools including her board games are a part of the curriculum she created. “Recently, I’ve launched my four-step plan on its website, which is free for all so that they can dip their toes into the world of coding and start their own coding journey,” she mentions.
Just like any teenager
Samaira’s conflicting mind on what she would be studying after high school is typical of any teenager. “The intersection of entrepreneurship and computer science is something that I’m passionate about studying. But then, another part of me wants to become a scientist,” says the youngster who also looks forward to work for cancer cure using AI and technology. “And another part of me wants to go to law school, become a human rights lawyer, and eventually become President of the United States of America,” she adds thinking, “Maybe I’ll be able to put all of these together someday and then become the President,” says the ninth grader who still has a few years to chalk out a plan.
At the moment, she is excited about her summer course ‘sociology of inequality’ from Stanford, which she is doing to get a grip on how to solve social problems like racism, and gender bias. The youngster loves to dance, play badminton and spend time with friends balancing it all with precision while running her company, travelling for workshops and focusing on her studies.