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Davidson Ambassador Spotlight Q&A – Democratizing Filmmaking for All Students; Encouraging Girls to Explore Coding

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The purpose of the Young Scholars Ambassador Program is to foster learning and civic engagement through community service, volunteerism and leadership in highly motivated and mature Young Scholars. In this article, three 2022 Ambassadors share how they have helped make a positive difference in the lives of others and more! 

Young Scholar Ambassador MarkMark Leschinsky

Project: The Lighthouse Initiative

What are some past and present projects you’ve worked on to help make a positive difference in the lives of others?

I’m extremely passionate about the work I do in sharing my love for filmmaking with other students. I am an award-winning student filmmaker and the Founder and Executive Director at The Lighthouse Initiative (TLI) — the very first student-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is dedicated to democratizing the art of filmmaking for students globally.

The organization is named after my first film, “The Lighthouse,” which was about an inspirational educator who guided his students in the correct direction in life just as a lighthouse guides ships in the dark. After conducting thorough research and discovering that there were no existing organizations that provided free filmmaking lessons for students, I was extraordinarily motivated to start an initiative to bridge this gap.

I am extraordinarily happy to report that since the program’s establishment in September 2020, it has impacted over 4,000 aspiring filmmakers in 100+ countries. The Lighthouse Initiative achieves its goal of democratizing filmmaking for students through four main initiatives, each incredibly impactful in its unique way. We host a free filmmaking class taught by award-winning student filmmakers, organize the Student World Impact Film Festival (SWIFF), have published the book “Beanie the Bunny Teaches Kids About Filmmaking,” and host the Film Sessions Podcast on Spotify — all cumulatively to further our mission.

What are some of your short-term and long-term plans?

I am incredibly excited about the future for The Lighthouse Initiative. The organization recently became an official Amazon Prime Video Direct Distribution Partner! Through this new partnership, we are achieving our core mission more than ever — to democratize filmmaking for students globally. Now, students of The Lighthouse Initiative will have the opportunity to have their films seen alongside Hollywood’s best — all on Amazon Prime Video.

How has the Young Scholars program helped you to reach your goals and achieve your accomplishments?

I am thankful to the Young Scholars Ambassador Program for helping me develop The Lighthouse Initiative. Through frequent seminars with industry professionals, consistent think tank sessions with other Young Scholars, and monthly check-ins with the program director, I was able to grow my project!

Young Scholar Ambassador MarkLilah Lindemann

Project: Bridge to Coding

What are some past and present projects you’ve worked on to help make a positive difference in the lives of others?

Starting in middle school, I began running science and engineering workshops for a local children’s science museum and for troops of younger Girl Scouts. As I watched elementary school girls build hydraulic arms out of popsicle sticks and syringes, create colorful Doodlebots, and code mouse robots to zoom across the floor, I saw their unbridled excitement and enthusiasm for engineering and computer science.

Yet this was in stark contrast to my observations amongst my peers. I noticed very few girls my age participating in robotics or other technology activities. My library’s middle school robotics team was only 20% girls and I was the only girl on my high school robotics team this year. Curious, I did some research and found that the statistics reflected my reality: while elementary aged girls are as interested in engineering and technology as their male peers, those numbers start to change in middle school.

To address this issue, I worked with a local chapter of Girls Inc. to run a “Bridge to Coding” club and launch the LI HackHers annual hackathon for female and non-binary middle school aged kids. At the Hackathon, Carla Franklin-Richards of Amazon gave an inspiring speech about choosing challenges and persevering through obstacles. Our community partners, including Microsoft and Juni Learning, led workshops on game design, app building, and HTML/CSS. Then, the girls worked in teams to build awesome coding projects with their newfound skills. Watching them collaborate, brainstorm, and innovate was so impressive!

Encouraging girls to explore coding is especially important because computer science is a vital tool for addressing global challenges. We have to ensure that programmers and engineers have diverse perspectives, so that rather than entrenching our biases or violating ethical principles, computer science helps us better comprehend and improve our world.

What are some of your short-term and long-term plans?

To improve access to the computer programming opportunities that increase girls’ confidence and skills, I plan to continue to host monthly, virtual workshops with text-based coding projects. I will also be working with my local Girl Scout Council to run in-person workshops.

If we can host in-person, that makes it easier to make sure every girl has a device. If we need to remain virtual, I would like to find ways to increase access for girls who do not have devices or an internet connection, which is a problem I’ve encountered before with virtual programs.

I am hoping some of our 8th grade participants will return as mentors for next year’s LI HackHers Hackathon and continue the cycle of uplifting and encouraging other girls in coding and computer science.

How has the Young Scholars program helped you to reach your goals and achieve your accomplishments?

With the training and support of the Young Scholars Program, I gained the confidence to reach out to community partners, lead planning meetings, and speak with the press to amplify the impact of our efforts. The seminars had so much great information about communication, branding, leadership, and more. Monthly check-ins helped keep me on track. The community of other young people working to make a difference with their projects was also an invaluable source of encouragement and information.

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