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Girls put creativity, energy into solving community problems

A group of nearly 100 middle and high school girls gathered at Lourdes High School on Wednesday. Armed with curiosity and energy, they were tasked with coming up with solutions to some of Rochester's most pressing problems.

No issue was too big to broach. On the table were topics that confound the region's leaders each day, including homelessness, language barriers and Destination Medical Center.

Also in the room were 11 community leaders — entrepreneurs, IT professionals, designers, nonprofit coordinators and a city councilwoman — all providing some expertise and detailing to students the biggest challenges facing their field.

Students' solutions to those challenges will come in the form of an app. They'll write the code, create a business and plan a marketing campaign for their creation.

Wednesday's kick-off event introduced the girls to the 12-week planning process for the Technovation program, a global coding competition where girls create a mobile app to meet a community need.


When the region's 19 teams go looking for problems to solve, the goal is that they'll be local.

Jon Losness, of Families First of Minnesota, said as many as one-third of the families he works with don't speak English. He thinks providing them with a calendar and updates on their children in their native languages would be helpful.

A representative from the Minnesota Reading Corps. works with students who are uncomfortable reading. She thinks those private struggles could be addressed discreetly with an app.

Teams interviewed community members such as Losness, giving them a chance to do firsthand research and address a concrete problem to solve.

"It's kind of creating the opportunity for them to learn from these community representatives," said Rose Anderson, a member of the Technovation planning team and a Mayo Clinic service designer. And it pushes them to consider things like social impact and environmental challenges, locally.

"There's also a value to the community here," Anderson said. Many of the organizations were nonprofits without a large budget to expend on software projects.

It's the third year that Technovation has had a stake in Southeast Minnesota and the number of girls interested has "snowballed," said Rich Bogovich, a program organizer. There are now 19 teams of five girls each.

Those teams will begin meeting in the next few weeks to continue their research.


The teams draw much of their strength from mentor relationships; they're paired with business and educational mentors to help them stay on track.

"We all kind of just worked our networks to tap people we thought would be terrific mentors and terrific role models for these girls," said Emily Benner, who helped bring the program to the region, and who works for Preventice.

In May, the girls will present their completed projects during "Appapalooza," a regional pitch event in Minneapolis.

"It's a really neat thing to see girls who are super shy at the beginning of the year grow in their confidence and get to the point where they can be on-stage doing the public speaking thing with their pitches," Anderson said.

Last year, Anderson said, there were 50 Minnesota teams competing in the regional competition. Of the seven finalists, five of those teams were from Southeast Minnesota.

The success so far has felt good, the girls said, but the best part for many students are the endless possibilities.

"You just get to show your creativity and aren't held to certain guidelines," said Taylor Price, a St. Francis student.

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