Through their high-tech invention, two young women are doing their part to attract more female engineers to a traditionally male-dominated industry.
The two women are Lehigh University students Kira Gobes and Kelsie Strobel, who have won a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace award for their Kuungana Tech Ring, a brace-let the wearer can customize through coding.
The device can teach the concept of programming by allowing users to code their device to flash colors at specific times. It can also help users connect to an online community networking platform where they can interact with female engineers throughout the world and learn about opportunities for scholarships and universities.
Gobes and Strobel, both set to graduate in 2018 from the Bethlehem university, are majors in the Integrated Degree in Engineering Arts & Sciences. The name for the project, Kuungana, means “connect” in Swahili. The idea stemmed from a Lehigh-sponsored trip the pair took to Kenya.
The two also won an annual contest, Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation EUREKA Ventures Competition. They won the grand prize in the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ’55 competition category and will be honored at Baker’s annual Innovate! Celebrate! Dinner on April 25.
While they initially conceived of the device as being a ring that someone could wear on her finger, they decided to create a bracelet that could teach coding.
“We are still working on prototypes,” Gobes said. “We started to do research and found a bracelet would be able to implement all the features we wanted. Ideally, the finished product will have lights on it, so you can code in different patterns.”
Now in its 11th year, the Projects for Peace program is targeted to undergraduates at American colleges and universities in the David United World College Scholars Program to design grassroots projects they will implement during the summer.
The Projects for Peace program was inspired by the late philanthropist Kathryn Davis.
STYLE AND FUNCTION
Other features of the students’ invention could include an accelerator to control functions, a vibrating function to alert the user to messages and possibly the ability to send messages to friends through the bracelet.
“What makes it unique is you are coding all those functions,” Gobes said. “You get to decide how it looks.”
That’s one feature they hope will help make their device marketable.
“It will be fully customizable and educational as well, because you are learning how to code,” Strobel said.
PASSION FOR ENGINEERING
Strobel said the target audience for the device is middle school girls, ages 12 to 14.
When in high school, Strobel began taking upper level science classes, and that’s where her passion for engineering began to develop.
“It was really about creativity and innovation,” she said. “I developed a passion for women’s issues.
“The goal of the project [is to] break down the gender gap in engineering and to get more women to pursue engineering.”
INSPIRED TO ATTEND LEHIGH
Gobes’ interest in engineering began earlier, in middle school, when she developed an interest in computer science.
“That’s kind of when I realized engineering was not just staring at a computer screen,” she said.
Gobes even developed an app while in middle school, and, ultimately, became inspired to become an engineering student at Lehigh.
Their goal is to allow girls to use the device to connect with other female engineers around the world, to see other successful women engineers.
“We’re just really excited that we get to share this idea,” Strobel said.
Gobes said the prize money will be used to help attend conferences and meet-ups that promote women in the field.
“We really have no idea where this is going to take us,” she said. “It does start a conversation about the gender gap in engineering and women’s issues.”