(May 23, 2023) While people her age were busy making trending reels on TikTok, a young teenager from Illinois was busy getting inspired for her next project on the platform. A student of University High School in Normal, Sirihaasa Nallamothu‘s spirit was ignited by a serendipitous encounter with a TikTok video. She then embarked on a profound journey to research about Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) – which is a condition that causes a number of symptoms when you transition from lying down to standing up, such as a fast heart rate, dizziness and fatigue – and its elusive association with syncope prediction, including when the patients might faint or blackout.
After several weeks of research and study, the Global Indian was able to make a breakthrough, winning the prestigious Cutler-Bell Prize in High School Computing, which empowers students to pursue computing challenges beyond the traditional classroom environment. Sirihaasa, who has also received a cash prize of $10,000 for her project, is the first person to undertake such a groundbreaking initiative, which in her words, “propelled her into uncharted territory by amassing invaluable human subject field data from individuals afflicted by POTS.”
But, that’s not all that the young student has achieved. Sirihaasa also founded Girls Who Code and Dream Coders clubs at her Middle school, for the other young girls who wanted to have a career in the software industry. Fueled by an unwavering passion for coding, she embarked on a transformative journey, not only as a dedicated instructor but as a visionary architect of a comprehensive coding curriculum that propelled her peers into the realm of technological prowess.
A science prodigy
Born to Telugu immigrants from Andhra Pradesh, Sirihaasa has always been the top student in her class. While she was always inspired by her software engineer parents, it was a school friend, who first introduced the young student to computer science and she was immediately enthralled by the subject. However, a disheartening reality came into focus for a young visionary, making her aware of the major lack of support for girls who wanted to learn to code.
Thank you @NCWITAIC and @BankofAmerica for an amazing award weekend. I’m so honored to have received the national award and represent the @IllinoisCS NCWIT chapter. I’m grateful to have met so many inspiring people! A truly awesome community of women in #tech! pic.twitter.com/4A06Scthbe
— Sirihaasa Nallamothu (@sirihaasa) March 21, 2023
Through the sheer force of her passion, the student undertook the role of a mentor extraordinaire, guiding her eager students along the winding path of coding. Drawing inspiration from the world around her, she orchestrated captivating coding classes, serving as a beacon of knowledge, and illuminating the minds of these young girls. But her impact extended far beyond the confines of the classroom. Interestingly, her programme didn’t just impact the other girls, but also their parents, who joined her classes eventually.
The Dream Code Project
Eventually, the student managed to expand the community and impart the invaluable knowledge of coding to more than 250 young girls, fostering an enriching environment that sparks their intellectual growth. The community also organised bonding sessions, where the participants shared their stories, hobbies, interests, and more. Sirihaasa also exposes girls to role models in STEAM through the Sisterhood Spotlight, so they can see trailblazers in STEM. The youngster received the prestigious Get Involved Award for her initiatives in 2021.
Sirihaasa started researching the POTS in 2022, and after doing substantial research was able to write a Python script to extract the 15-minute window signal data of heart rate, blood volumetric pressure, EDA, temperature, and accelerometer data. According to the Cutler-Bell Prize statement, the young student’s research, “is providing a starting point for future research into real-time prediction and integration into a smartwatch, which will help millions who experience vasovagal syncope research a safe and comfortable position before fainting.” After finishing her project, Sirihaasa plans to work toward creating a consumer product and pairing her algorithm with a smartwatch.