When COVID struck, we were all faced with what felt like an impossible situation to overcome. For me personally, I was miles away from my loved ones, juggling to keep up with work as a newly-promoted Vice President, running the household, homeschooling my two bonus-kids (more commonly known as step-children); the list goes on.
The pandemic also impacted one of my personal projects which I've led since 2018, called Smartiz. Smartiz is a year-long free program for 16-year-old girls to encourage interest in STEM studies and careers. The program builds on three pillars: extra Math curriculum, Programming and Mentoring. Sessions on all elements were hosted at Morgan Stanley's office in Budapest to get the girls closer to a real workplace, work with their technical mentors on programming assignments, and to meet with senior mentors to talk about their dreams and careers.
Unfortunately, COVID changed everything. After several crisis meetings we figured out the way forward, including the right platform, and support model, revisited the deliverables and the scope. We decided to focus on complementing the school's educational materials (many institutions are not set up to continue a high-quality education in an online world), ensured the girls had proper development opportunities, and provided stronger psychological support from both professionals and through mentors to eliminate anxiety.
We had a successful closure with Smartiz2 and we didn't stop there. After several workshops we transformed Smartiz3 into a virtual program, maintaining the key pillars but tailoring the scope to a virtual experience. More importantly, we turned the program into a virtual opportunity for high-school girls available nationwide.
It was a huge effort to coordinate everything online especially selecting the right mentors and conducting the candidate selection virtually focusing on those most in-need. We managed to ensure that not only the girls were enjoying the program and learning a lot, but that the mentors were also benefitting from the experience while balancing work, family and personal duties. It was all worth every minute and so exciting to see the girls' successes. While Smartiz2 was a great upgrade of Smartiz1, Smartiz3 raised the bar even higher with its scope. This is a journey, and I am grateful to be involved in, as I am preparing for the kick-off of Smartiz 4.
Once you experience what it feels like to impact the next generation's thinking, you don't mind the lemons thrown at you, you just work out the best lemonade recipe ever - and you evolve it further every year.