TEDxTeenChallenge from the eyes of a teen reporter

By Sydney Kessler

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a community in thirst of a good fortune must be in want of an innovative teenage populace.TEDxTeenChallenge

Why is it then that teenagers are never taken seriously by society? Trust me, I would know – I’m a teen myself. We are written off as too stubborn, too angsty, too lazy to ever make a difference in our society. Ideas and projects proposed by adults are almost always more successful than ones proposed by teens, regardless of the actual idea itself, because no one believes in us.

That is why TEDxOrangeCoast created the TEDxTeenChallenge – so that teenagers can have the opportunity to further their ideas with the help of mentorship and funding from TEDxOC. So what is the challenge? Teens could submit an idea involving STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) that is innovative, collaborative, or has a social impact.

This year, TEDxOC received over thirty applications – the most we’ve ever gotten! Even though all of these projects were amazing, only six were chosen as finalists. The finalists all made an appearance at TEDxOC to explain and promote their project to the attendees, who would then vote for the project they deemed most worthy. The winner would receive $1,500 towards their project and mentorship through TEDxOC and the two runners up would receive $500 as well as a mentorship.

The six finalists were lined up at a long table in the lobby, armed with everything from visuals to t-shirts. I got a chance to speak with all of these amazing teens to find out what they did for our community. You can see a short video from each of the finalists HERE.

The new Common Core standards in science are complicated and hard to teach, so The Sage Science Ambassadors Rebecca Fudge, Amir Soleimany, and Claire Goul designed laboratory kits to help teachers educate their students effectively and make science fun.

Gemma Busoni found a love of coding after attending Hackercons. Coding is a very useful skill to have in today’s world, and she found a lack of it in school systems in LA; to counter this, she founded TEDxTeenChallengeDowntown Hackers, an organization designed to teach underprivileged kids how to code by partnering with universities and professionals.

Isabelle Zhou was surprised and dissatisfied to find that at the science competitions she attended, she was the only girl. In response, she founded the Orange County Science Circle, an organization that holds workshops, lectures, and field days to get kids, especially girls, interested in science.

Last year, Andrew Ninh’s lung burst. He spent many unnecessary hours at the ICU and realized that diagnosis and treatment would be much faster and more efficient if doctors had more patient-centric data. As an engineer, he realized he could make a difference and created Docbot, a software system that analyzes hospital electronic health records.

Clean water is a given for many people in Orange County but for millions around the world, that is not the case. For their advanced chemistry class, Charlotte Andrews, Grant Barton, Andrew Couse, Nolan Gunsolley, Aviva Meyers, and Jeremy Sogo decided to design a Solar Powered Water Purification System that will purify water for people without access to electricity.

The human race uses an extreme amount of plastic. Ravneet Kaur realized this and she and Bhavin Jindal used molecular gastronomy to create a substance called Spira Duco, made with sodium alginate, calcium chloride and sodium citrate. This substance can hold water and is edible to reduce waste from water bottles. They created edible water bottles.

OC Science CircleThe winners were announced at the beginning of the second session of Day 2 of TEDxOC. The runners up were the Orange County Science Circle and the Sage Science ambassadors. And finally, the winner was Solar Powered Water Purification System.

I got a chance to speak with the last year’s winners of the TEDxTeenChallenge. Since their win last year, Issy Luestig and Sophie Smith have grown their community service club Young Singers of Orange County significantly, and said that the title of TEDxTeenChallenge winner really helped them expand, and working with professionals to make a business plan helped them find a course for their bright future.

Caroline Nyugen is currently making a documentary about human trafficking in accordance to her project The Reality of Human Trafficking. She said she was very grateful to TEDxOrangeCoast because she could not have gotten this opportunity without them.

Congratulations to the winners of the TEDxTeenChallenge this year! You have proved that being a teen doesn’t mean that you can’t be amazing innovators. Thank you all for your great ideas and inspiring stories – it is indeed a good fortune that Orange County has such an innovative teenage populace.



Posted on: October 1st, 2014 | Posted in: TEDxOC