Anushka Kollengode plans to use her $500 award from the Ann Bancroft Foundation to market a mobile app she created for reducing waste and litter. The 16-year-old junior at Mayo High School in Rochester is one of 112 girls and teens around Minnesota awarded a grant as the foundation continues its work to nurture a new generation of women leaders.
The St. Paul-based foundation has awarded the grants since its founding 24 years ago by legendary explorer and Minnesota native Ann Bancroft, the first woman to reach the North Pole by sled and foot. It's about dreams and taking chances, executive director Ethelind Kaba said of the awards.
We caught up with Anushka during a recent school lunch break, where she shared more about her dream project.
Q: How did you get interested in waste and recycling?
A: I am very passionate about the environment. It does affect me and our future generations. I travel a lot, and going down roads and highways, I saw so much trash and I thought, "This is not acceptable." I have a dog, too, and I really care about animals in general. I was just, like, going ballistic, like "What the heck?" This needs to change.
Q: Describe the app you created.
A: It sends you to the nearest trash bin or recycle bin. We haven't put it out on the app store. That's what we plan to do. You would open your phone and you open the app ... and it will help you find the nearest recycling or nearest trash bin. We had to hook it to a database where it collects all the information. The most exciting part is that if you don't find a trash bin, you can make one [by adding the location to the data] and help other people.
Q: Does the app have a name?
A: Green3. The name of the app has two parts. Green represents preserving the green environment. 3 represents three ways of helping support the environment by properly trashing, recycling and supporting green business.
Q: What spurred you to create this particular app?
A: I like to code. I joined Technovation MN. (Technovation is a 12-week program for girls ages 10 to 18 that teaches them to design and code mobile apps.) This is a place where girls can have fun helping out each other.
Q: How will you use the grant money?
A: I'm planning to use the money to help market it. I would go to all the high schools and middle schools ... and post up signs and logos and give talks. I feel like I could use the money to invest more on the database since we're not completely there. If we had some money, it could help us unlock more features of the database.
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: I have one older brother. He does a bunch of sports. My dad runs Infuzn (www.infuzn2go.com), an Indian-inspired food service. You can order food and they'll bring it to you. He's one of the three managers. [My mom] is a computer scientist. She works in IT. She was actually the person who inspired me. She's like one of the few women in her work area. [My parents] were born in India and they moved to America in the 1990s.
Q: Do you have an idea of what you want to do after high school?
A: I wanted to [go to] medical school, but I'm probably going to go into computer science. Medical school is too long. I'm already into computer science so I have some background in it and I think it would be easier.
Q: Ann Bancroft Foundation executive director Ethelind Kaba said the grants are particularly vital this year because of the growing mental health crisis among young people, compounded by the pandemic. How has life changed for you over the past two years?
A: I am one of those lucky people who had the support of my family. My mom and my dad worked from home during the pandemic and my brother, who goes to the same school as me, was there as well. In addition, two of my neighbors joined our home to log in to school since their parents are doctors and had to go to work. So I had a good support system during the pandemic.
Q: What is an important source of strength and energy for you?
A: I think probably my friends who encourage me on a daily basis. School can be a bit rough. My dog and my family, we have so much history. My dog's name is Astro. He's a black Lab and shar-pei. He's seven months old.
Q: What do you like to tell other teens about risk-taking?
A: You should take it if it's not dangerous. It tells you much more about yourself.
Q: Was the mentor a big help on your application?
A: Yes. My mom was my mentor and she was a big help because sometimes I have spelling issues, and she helped inspire me to write the application.
For more information: To learn more about the grants, visit the foundation's website. The grants are made twice a year, in the spring and fall, and all K-12 females around the state can apply. Applicants are paired with a mentor to help with the applications. More than half the grants, which average about $500, are awarded to Black, Indigenous, Latino or Asian girls.