This week, an all-female team of high school students is traveling to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to present their newest invention: a solar-powered tent they invented to help shelter homeless people in their hometown.
For the past year, the 12 students–many of them low-income Latina juniors and seniors at San Fernando High School in Los Angeles–designed and developed a solar-powered tent, complete with lights, USB ports for charging, and a UV light for disinfecting and sanitizing the tent. It even held up to a rain-test, and is portable.
“This invention is made to benefit displaced people: homeless, refugees, or immigrants,” the team wrote in their project plan. “This invention would be useful in any place where people are without a permanent home, whether it may be on Skid Row in Los Angeles or all the way across the world in Refugee Camps of Greece.”
In the San Fernando Valley, where the students live, homelessness increased by 36% in the past year, according to statistics collected by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and cited by the students.
As one of them told Mashable:
“Because we live here, we see it growing constantly,” Maggie Mejia says of the homeless population. For her, it even hits close to home: “If your parents miss X amount of bills, you can fall into homelessness, too.”
Many of the students had not “coded, soldered, sewn, or 3D-printed” before embarking on the project, Mashable reported. They were recruited to develop the tent by an organization called DIY Girls.
DIY Girls, which is based in California, works to get women and girls interested in technology. Its founder Luz Rivas, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, started the organization so that girls from neighborhoods like hers, which are often written off as “disadvantaged” or “underserved,” could get connected to opportunities in technology.
According to DIY Girls statistics, 97% of the students participating in DIY Girls programs are Latina.
A White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics study published in 2015 reports that Latina women are less likely to get STEM degrees than other women, and that in 2010, only 3.5% of all STEM degrees in the U.S. were awarded to Latinas.
Most of the seniors on the team said they are planning to attend four-year universities after graduating to study kinesiology, biology, aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and computer engineering.
According to the group’s GoFundMe, the trip to MIT is the first time that many of them have ever been on a plane, or left home.
So far, MIT’s EurekaFest seems to be going well for the LA-based team. Their project won the Community Engagement Award, and their team won the a balloon-tower building competition by creating a “Quinceañera Balloon Tower.”