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Meet the Teen Technologist Who Is Saving Our Earth

(Photo of Danielle Boyer + Vinaya Gunasekar/Courtesy of The STEAM Connection and Rebeca Da Silva Photography)

13-year-old Vinaya Gunasekar is using her passion for robotics and technology to educate kids about our Earth.

We are in the midst of a climate crisis. Our communities are flooding, pipelines are desecrating our lands, our ocean is on fire, and our Earth’s surface temperature is rising.

We need all hands on deck. Every thinker and doer has an important place in creating the change that they want to see, and our youth have been leading minds on using their passion for technology and engineering to create sustainable solutions. Solutions like young graduate student Tejas Kabra’s robot that cleans up oil spills.

The role that technology plays in innovating for a sustainable Earth is an important one, although it is largely overlooked. There are youth who are fighting for the world to see this importance. Youth like Sanjana Paul: Co-Founder of Earth Hacks and an Electrical Engineer who has worked for NASA, Alexandra Collins: Co-Founder of Students Against Ethylene Oxide and a coder, and Vinaya Gunasekar.

(Photo of Danielle Boyer + Vinaya Gunasekar/Courtesy of The STEAM Connection and Rebeca Da Silva Photography)

When young Vinaya saw the opportunity to use her passion for robotics and technology to make a difference, she took it. Since she was a young child, Vinaya has used her voice to advocate for our Earth.

Vinaya said that “it is really difficult to be surrounded by things that are worsening, but feeling like you have no way to change them. It’s hard to know that the world that me and my loved ones live in is not getting healthier…we have to do what we can to create change now before it is too late…and it is possible.” She continues “For example, in Asia, there may be no more fish in the ocean by 2048 in a mere 27 years because of commercial fishing trends. Fifteen species went extinct in 2020. These are things that are happening now.”

Vinaya got her start in helping create the science wing at her elementary school through her class’s Project R.O.O.T., and when she was in 6th grade, she wrote a book about the environment. “Beforehand, I wasn’t very aware of what was happening,” she said. “As I researched for my book, I found statistics like the ones I said before, and that terrified me.”

I met Vinaya through her robotics team when she was beginning middle school. I was a young student myself then. Now, at age 13, Vinaya is an award-winning inventor, podcaster, and speaker. She is also the ambassador of my educational charity, The STEAM Connection based out of Troy, Michigan.

Vinaya has been a tireless volunteer, coder for her robotics team, and inventor in her free time. She has been developing a project called Auto Oscar, a recycling robot for schools. She is creating unique solutions by using her passions in design, using recycled plastic in new ways, and in technology! And you can, too.

(Photo of Vinaya Gunasekar/Courtesy of The STEAM Connection and Rebeca Da Silva Photography)

Last year, Vinaya and I decided to start a weekly podcast for youth called Hands-On Techie Talks. We use technology as a way to get kids interested in helping the environment and share our journeys as future engineers.

“I am the proudest though, of how we’ve been using it to talk about things like supporting healthy habits and mental health in general,” Vinaya said during a BIPOC Women’s panel for the Friends of San Antonio Natural Areas. “A key part of environmental progress is empathy for others and for our world. The podcast creates a way to bridge the gap around the world virtually and connects others globally through multiple different countries. The goal of this project was to instill kindness and empathy in others for their surroundings and other people, and I think the podcast is a great way of doing it.”

Vinaya is looking forward to the podcast anniversary and a special new cover featuring our listeners’ artwork! A short behind-the-scenes clip from the podcast about love and kindness can be heard below:

 

Vinaya’s journey hasn’t always been an easy one and she has faced pushback for being a girl in robotics. Her experience sadly is all too common, but speaks to the beauty of pushing onward even when things are difficult. Your skills and interests are valued and can play an important role in change. Vinaya has so much to look forward to this year, from the birth of a girls engineering league to beginning high school at the same place that I went to. Her story is a reminder to celebrate ourselves and our unique skill sets and to continue fighting for change.

Learn more about Vinaya and support her work at www.steamconnection.org+ be sure to follow Steam Connection on Instagram and Twitter!

Danielle Boyer

Danielle Boyer (she/her/hers) is an Indigenous (Ojibwe) and Queer diversity champion, robotics inventor, and advocate for underserved youth who has been educating children since she was ten. She creates innovative and accessible learning solutions utilizing robots that she invents and donates to youth to reduce the barrier to entry to valuable technical skills. Founding The STEAM Connection, her educational nonprofit, has helped her reach hundreds of thousands of youth around the world. From mentoring 35 youth robotics teams, to fighting through sexism as a woman in engineering, to working as a diversity champion and speaker, she is a tenacious advocate for the child that she once was. She is one of PEOPLE’s Girls Changing the World, is a L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth, and was recently honored in Women of Worth, an NBC Special. She was just featured as the cover story for Winds of Change by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, her favorite charity.

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