From Nigeria to the White House, she's on a mission to create social change through tech.
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State Farm

It's hard to believe, but there are still kids out there who haven't even used the word "technology."

Zainab Oni didn't welcome the word into her vocabulary until ninth grade. She was 12 years old when her family left Laos, Nigeria, and immigrated to New York City, after her mother passed away. She was in search of new opportunities to make a life for herself.

Luckily, she soon discovered something called the Mouse Design League, a unique after-school program that teaches kids how to explore technology in new ways that address pressing social issues.


It was then and there at Hudson High School of Learning that her future began to take shape.

"I didn’t realize how formative those years were at the time — I was just going to this program on Tuesdays," she says today.

But, looking back, she knows: "I really wouldn’t be where I was without Mouse."

"I go to UVA now. And I really wouldn't be here if it weren't for Mouse."

Posted by Upworthy on Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Mouse programs go beyond basic technical training and help students to actually understand what it means to build something as part of a team and to improve the lives of people around them. The know-how is one thing, but the "who" and "why" are the parts that make the technology valuable.

Mouse is more than just another STEM outreach program for students. It's a hands-on opportunity to change the world.

"We empower all students to create with technology to solve real problems and make meaningful change in our world," explains Marc Lesser, the senior director of learning and design. "We are committed to creating more diversity in STEM and opening opportunities for students from underserved communities across the country."

For students like Oni, that means spending their after-school hours inventing a wrist-mounted sensor to help people who are blind or visually impaired identify and locate the different foods on their plates, for example.

"Through Mouse, I learned about technology, but also so much more about being a great person," Oni says. "Mouse taught me to think outside of myself and how I could make life better for other people."

"Technology changes completely who we call neighbors, and how we think of extending our passion and empathy for the world around us," says Lesser.

But you can't create technology that improves lives without including all those lives in the conversation.

Mouse is doing what they can to bridge that gap too, since any good engineer knows that you can't solve a problem you don't know how to see.

Sometimes, that can be as literal as representation. As Oni says, "When you see people that are doing it that look like you, it makes you feel that you can do it too."

Black and Latin Americans comprise nearly 30% of the U.S. population — but according to Mouse, they make up less than half of that percentage of the country's computing workforce.

Similarly, women only represent about 12% of the engineering workforce, despite being half the population. But at Mouse? 44% of the students they serve are black or Latin Americans, and 39% of them are women. The vast majority come from low-income households as well.

We can't wait for the future to make a brighter, more equitable world — but we do have to wait a bit as the minds at Mouse engineer the next stage of change right now.

Today, Zainab Oni is a student at University of Virginia. But she was invited to the White House before she even finished high school.

While her studies are focused mainly on political and social thought, the maker skills and hacker intuitions she developed at Mouse are a central part of that, which is why she still volunteers and gives back when she can.

"No matter what I do, I’ll always want to make a difference for people," she says. "Mouse taught me to believe in myself and to create something that will have a lasting impact."

Mouse taught Oni to see the problems and to think outside the box, using her hands-on technical knowledge to find new solutions. Imagine the positive impact it can have if more people learned to engineer a better tomorrow.

You can help support Mouse by joining their network and bringing their projects to your local learning center. All you need to get started can be found here.

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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