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The Wallet Project: Century student begins program to educate middle-school girls on business

"The point is to teach them innovation on day one and grow the mindset," Kirthi Manivannan said.

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Kirthi Manivannan is a Century High School student and a local organizer of The Wallet Project helping middle school girls to grow an interest in entrepreneurship. December 29, 2020. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
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Kirthi Manivannan is still in high school, but she’s already helping to mold and mentor those younger than herself.

Along with a longtime friend from Florida, Sarah Kathuria, Manivannan has started the program called “The Wallet Project.” In the program, the two collaborators provide workshops for middle-school girls on business and entrepreneurship.

Why did they start it? Well, they saw the need.

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“We were talking about how when we were in middle school and elementary school, we didn’t really have the support to explore the business field,” Manivannan said, explaining how they were often directed more toward the sciences. “We really wanted to fill the void in what society has built.”

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Manivannan is an ambassador for the organization Technovation. She was able to use that position to help spread the word about the project she was starting with Kathuria. For their first workshop involved students from Rochester, the Twin Cities and Florida.

The program is still in its early stages. Their first three-part workshop covered topics and concepts from finances and to innovation. Although they're working on developing their own curriculum for the course, they have borrowed one well-known exercise. In fact, it's the exercise from which they devised the name of the program itself: The Wallet Project.

The Wallet Project is an exercise developed at Stanford University. The idea is to take a wallet and walk through the process of creating a better design. And in their first workshop, Manivannan and Kathuria helped their middle school students do just that.

"The point is to teach them innovation on Day One and grow the mindset," Manivannan said.

The two friends don’t do all the teaching. They also are trying to get interviews with female entrepreneurs who are able to speak about some of the areas where Manivannan and Kathuria have yet to learn.

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Just before Christmas, the two founders interviewed Amy Devan, owner and founder of the women’s clothing line NAVEDA. Manivannan and Kathuria asked Devan questions that they’d received from the middle schoolers in their workshop.

One person Manivannan would really like to interview is Arianna Huffinton, co-founder of the media outlet The Huffington Post.

For as much as they may be teaching younger students, Manivannan and Kathuria have found themselves learning through the process, as well.

They hope their students will be able to use the skills they're learning regardless of where they eventually end up.

"It was definitely a teaching and learning experience for all of us," Kathuria said. "We just want them (the students) to feel supported, really -- to just know that whatever lessons they take from this workshop, it's really applicable anywhere in the field."

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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