City Smart

The ‘Smart Cities’ Techathon set out to empower students to contribute to a better built environment

The Girls’ Day School Trust event focussed on environmental issues, showing girls that technology is key to improving their communities

On 12 March 2020, the GDST Techathon event encouraged and challenged students to use technology to improve built environments.

The event gave students exposure to tech-related careers and showed them that they could shape the sustainability of their communities. The Smart Cities theme gave students access to positive action rather than feeling powerless in the face of the challenges posed by climate change and other environmental issues.

Students from across the GDST’s family of schools attended with each school bringing five senior-school students.

First the girls heard keynotes speeches from Julia Muir, Founder of the UK Automative 30% Club – which aims to achieving a better gender balance within the automotive industry – and alumna of Sheffield High School, GDST. And they heard from Sarra Pardali, Head of Infrastructure and Sustainability at the GDST. These talks introduced key themes such as, what is a smart environment? What are the potential opportunities and challenges of smart cities and what skills are needed to build and power smart environments?

The main event of the day was a ‘Dragon’s-Den-style innovation challenge, supported by industry mentors. Girls grouped into teams of 10 students and had a few hours to create a product, service or application to encourage sustainability in a smart environment. The students then pitched their idea to judges and the winner were selected by the mentors and other students.

The day ended with a panel discussion on ‘Smart Cities: Safe or Scary?’ This was chaired by Cathryn Buckle, Head of Estates at the GDST and the following panellists:

Sarra Pardali, Head of Sustainability at the GDST, said: “The aim of the event was to showcase for how our girls will shape the smart, sustainable communities of our near future; and how positive action and outside-the-box thinking can solve real-life problems – and become an antidote to ‘eco-anxiety’.”

Amy Icke, Online Learning and Innovation Manager at the GDST, said: “Now in its sixth year, the Techathon provides students from across the GDST an opportunity to engage with authentic, learning activities. In partnership with expert industry mentors, students are able to take safe risks, to celebrate the learning process, as well as the end result, and have agency to solve real-life problems. The event was about empowering our girls to find their voice as change makers, to design and shape the future to make the world a better place.”