The Future Trailblazer Challenge is a global maker contest where more than 500+ students in Sydney, London, Paris, New York, and the Bay Area participate in a coding curriculum to address sustainable development goals and solve their communities’ most pressing challenges.
Today at TrailheaDX '19, final winning teams from San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) competed in a Shark Tank-style pitchfest. "Team Scare Net” from San Francisco’s Denman Middle School won for their invention to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development. The team of four invented a biodegradable mesh net designed to attach underneath boats and collect trash.
The students had been working on a coding curriculum for six weeks, co-created by Salesforce.org Senior Product Manager Kim Chouard. In this interview, Kim shares the inspiration for the contest and how students innovate around the globe.
Please tell us about your background and how you got introduced to technology?
My commitment to technology and education comes from a fairly young age. I feel lucky that I found a passion of mine when I was 13 years-old. I loved using technology, so I created my consulting company to help local organizations build their websites and corporate brand. I was thinking of new ways to use technology, hoping we could distill some of that into schools and our education system.
I eventually got to the National Institute of Applied Sciences of Lyon, a top-notch engineering school in France, during which I flew to San Francisco with some college friends to participate in the $1 million hackathon organized by Salesforce in 2013. We ended up a finalist after three days of non-stop coding and innovating, sleeping on sofas, and eating free food. This was such a stimulating and creative process and is where I understood what it meant to be a Trailblazer. Soon after, I started my journey to inspire the next generation to use technology to solve the world’s biggest problems.
What is the Future Trailblazer Challenge and how was it created?
The Future Trailblazer Challenge is a worldwide maker contest — similar to hackathons — that aims to inspire over 500 students to be young innovators by leveraging technology as a force for positive change. Employees partner with teachers from local adopted schools to introduce middle-school students to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to support them in creating their vision of a sustainable future using cutting-edge technologies like 3D printing and AI.
The challenge was first ideated in Visitacion Valley, on the south edge of San Francisco, in the library of the middle school that Salesforce co-Founder Parker Harris adopted. That’s where I met Callen Taylor, the amazing school librarian who was eager to use her years of experience in teaching but wasn’t an expert in technology ... yet! We partnered and had a team volunteers come to the school weekly, and a few years later, the library was transformed into an amazing maker space.
Students were 3D printing like crazy, newcomers that barely spoke English were coding a do-it-yourself photo-booth with a RaspberryPi, others were building pianos out of slime … When Marc Benioff and Parker Harris saw how this partnership transformed the school, they offered me a fellowship to join Salesforce.org so that I could scale the program for employees and schools around the world. I was blessed to join Ebony Beckwith’s team and together we created the Future Trailblazer Challenge.
A Salesforce volunteer brainstorming with local students on how to
solve the world problem they cared about most
Can you share some more examples of projects the students have created?
Sure, it’s pretty amazing to see what students can come up with when they’re provided a safe space to innovate. We've seen everything from a self-irrigating food growth center meant to bring food and work to the most underserved areas to a 3D-printed boat model seeking out trash from the ocean to bring it back to a fulfillment center where it can be recycled to a device that educates drivers on their environmental impact and how they can reduce their carbon footprint to “save the planet” ... There has been no shortage of ideas!
How did Salesforce employees get involved?
The amazing thing with Salesforce is that volunteering is built into the company’s culture and that there are a lot of employees motivated to get involved. It’s hard to know how to efficiently help in the classrooms, so this program was a concrete way to support the students. We ran some 3D printing workshops and training sessions for employees and teachers so that they could partner in the classrooms.
Volunteers from different backgrounds and teams (not just technical) came weekly to the schools over a span of six weeks to mentor the students in their learning and making. The support they provided goes way beyond just 3D printing and coding: the sales teams supported students in their pitches and project managers helped them take it to the finish line. Overall, having adults come and show the students that they’re cared for and providing them with a real audience to pitch how they’re thinking of the future was invaluable.
San Francisco Unified School District’s Andrew Rothman with Kim Chouard in Salesforce
Park in downtown San Francisco
How important are public-private partnerships to bringing innovation to classrooms?
The ability to work so closely with the Oakland and San Francisco Unified School Districts has been incredible. The six-week curriculum that includes teacher training, handbooks, a computer game, and more were built hand-in-hand with Andrew Rothman, Computer Science Content Specialist at SFUSD. We really focused on building out what the teachers actually needed. We're not only providing materials and support to the teachers but providing them with tools and ideas on how to be more creative in their classrooms. In San Francisco and Oakland, this program even took place as an official elective in the students' course offering.
What's next for the Future Trailblazer Challenge?
Working in education is a never-ending thing, you always can and want to do better. This was a pilot that we hope to strengthen and bring to more students, educators, and volunteers around the world. I am working on the curriculum so that it can be easily replicated and shared with more regions.
My dream is that, down the line, we inspire other companies to join the movement and partner with schools in their communities to support students to be positive change makers.
Watch the Trailblazer Challenge at TrailheaDX ‘19 on Salesforce Live, as well as all the action happening this week in San Francisco.