Janani Janakiraman: Making Latinitas into Robot Chicas

Janani Janakiraman is Latinitas favorite kind of volunteer. Though highly qualified on her own as an engineer at IBM, Janani never comesjanani (2) alone – she comes with a task force that includes her oldest daughter Divya and her twin sisters Priya and Kavya and some of their friends from Westwood Highschool’s Spanish Honor Society or the engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin. This Spring, Janani led “Robot Chica” – Latinitas first Lego Mindstorms workshop.  We are also grateful to Janani for acquiring some of our first tablets at Latinitas – she truly comes to youth empowerment with a lot of gifts.

Latinitas: What was your experience like teaching Robot Chica?

Janani: I had a lot of fun teaching the kids how to program a Robot. I was amazed to see how even kids as young as second grade picked up programming via Lego Mindstorms very quickly.  Programming involves logical thinking, creativity and patience to complete tasks. Its always interesting to see the spark in the kids eyes when they are able to build things on their own.

 Latinitas: You get your own daughters involved in volunteering also – why?

Janani: I have three daughters and we volunteer as a family. I work full time and it started out as a way for me to spend more time with my kids and volunteer at the same time. We made fun shared memories while doing STEM based activities. It has now evolved to me depending on them to do most of the training when we host these workshops. My girls enjoy being role models for the other kids, especially girls, to show them that STEM is fun.

Latinitas: What were you like as a girl and how do you think that helped you become an engineer?

Janani: I grew up in India and was fortunate enough to be in a family where we were never held back. My mom was a high school math teacher, my dad an engineer and my hometown was filled with engineers working in the steel industry. So I grew up with great role models. I was always curious about how things worked and math was my favorite subject in school. I gravitated towards engineering without too much thought.

Latinitas: Where is your favorite place to be in the world?

Janani: My favorite place is a museum. Whenever we travel, we look for museums to visit. My favorite museums are ones which are hands on. Did you know that Austin has tons of museums and in September, on free museum day, you can visit all the museums for free?


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