At Emoti-Con 2016, NYC Youth Present Innovative Ideas For the World—Including a Wheelchair Wallet

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If you were to walk through the Celeste Bartos Forum—a beautiful venue in the New York Public Library—on June 11th, you would have found yourself amidst diverse youth with dreams of changing the world for the better through STEM.

Yes, indeed, I am talking about Emoti-Con 2016!

This year was my first year at Emoti-Con. I had the opportunity to participate in it through Mouse Design League, a group of high school students from around NYC that come together to design assistive technology. Throughout the year, I saw my teammates at Mouse Design League with Emoti-Con flash drive bracelets and shirts and I was awfully curious as to what the event is really about.

Emoti-Con is NYC's largest showcase for young designers, makers, technologists, and tinkerers who believe in digital innovation as a tool for positive change in the world around them. More than 300 young New Yorkers attended the 8th Annual Emoti-Con to present their ideas and inventions as well as to mingle and be inspired by their peers. Around 35 original projects were part of this year’s collection.

We had middle and high school students from informal youth learning programs across NYC and from members of the Hive NYC Learning Network, including Allstar Code, Girls Write Now, Global Kids, Independent High School Startup, Innovation Labs, Lower Eastside Girls Club, Mouse, Parsons Pre-College Program, Pearl Hacks, ScriptEd, The Knowledge House and City Pathways, and Urban Arts Partnership.

Because this was my first year, I was pretty amazed by all the events planned. In the morning, we had Networking Hour, which was time for us kids to talk with professionals about the real world. There were seven tables assigned to seven subjects: 

  • Game Design
  • What It’s Like to Be an Engineer
  • Using Tech to Change the World
  • Code is Everywhere
  • Is Your Idea a Business?
  • Art & Tech
  • What’s UX and UI? 

Many students were quite interested in Art & Tech, a table where we discussed the ways art and technology can come together—for instance, cartoon animation.

Next, Kaho Abe from NYU Game Innovation Lab and Ramsey Nasser, a game designer, talked to us about game design. I thought that this was the best lecture. They threw tubes, pool noodles, and beach balls into the audience . . . and let’s just say we had a lot of fun with the chaos. The overall point of their presentation was that designing a game requires playing with what you’ve got and seeing what works and what’s fun.

After that we had a traditional Emoti-Con team challenge called “No Hands-Berg!” I was surprised to discover that there was a bag of supplies hidden underneath our table. This paper bag of mysteries had a foam ball with pink star stickers (at least the one at my table did), paper clips, popsicle sticks, small binder clips, and rubber bands. The point of the game was to pass the ball around the table without it touching our hands or the table. I played this game with three adults, and one of them was a fifth grade teacher who said that she was going to play it in her class. Needless to say, it’s entertaining for all ages!

Afterwards, we walked around and viewed the wonderful projects. I was surprised to find out that there were 25 judges that took notes about each project. My group introduced “Panda’s Box,” which is a wallet that can be stored away at the side of a wheelchair. Basically, with the use of a joystick, a box will slide all the way up for you to store things and when you don’t need it anymore, you can use the joystick to slide it back down. We worked with Paul from United Cerebral Palsy of NYC to come up with a solution that would help him pick up things that he drops. Our thinking process was that instead of solving the problem after it happens, we should prevent the problem before it happens. And thus, Panda’s Box is designed to store away your personal belongings and provide space for your arm and hand. We called it Panda’s Box because you know Pandora’s Box sounds cool—and we just couldn’t resist.

We had another speech from high school senior Austin Carvey, who co-founded the Young Hackers, an organization of high school students that exists to empower the next generation of programmers. (Good luck in Cali, Austin!) At the end of the day, we had a speech from Lucy Jones, who is a fashion designer working to make assistive clothing for those in need. She has recently been recognized in the Forbes "30 Under 30" art and style list.

And last, but not least, the awards of the day! Here are the Emoti-Con 2016 Award recipients:

  • Crowd Favorite: PandaBox, Mouse Design League
  • Best Pitch: PandaBox, Mouse Design League
  • Point Of View: Styling with the Stars, ScriptEd
  • Most Social Impact: Ears Wide Open, Global Kids @ School for Human Rights
  • Most Entertaining: Alarm Clock Slippers, Mouse @ Baruch College Campus High School
  • Most Innovative: Vakaway, Baruch College Campus High School

That’s right. It was my first year at Emoti-con and my group won! It was quite exciting and intimidating for me to stand up on stage and talk about something that my team the Dangerous Pandas worked hard on all year. (We met every Tuesday from 4pm to 6pm.) I hope that at some point in our lives, we all get up on stage and bring out ideas that can change the world.

As I said on stage, you are all winners!

A huge thank you to MouseMozilla Foundation, the New York Public LibraryParsons School of Design and Urban Arts Partnership for organizing this year’s Emoti-Con.

Rafia Alamgir is an incoming eleventh grade student at Baccalaureate School for Global Education (BSGE) in Queens, NY. She is a member of the Mouse Design League, a group of high school students that create technology for social good.

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