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How Samsung Changed My Life


Students Gabriella Florencio, Louric Rankine and Xiaoling Liang celebrate being named one of the three national winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest while in Washington, D.C. in April of 2017; photo credit: Jocelyn Augustino

It’s easy to look at huge companies and not have a connection to them – even if it’s a well-known brand with products or services everywhere. At one time, this is how I felt about Samsung.
It was the beginning of my senior year of high school. I only had one thing on my mind: college. My room was filled with recruitment letters and SAT booklets – nothing else mattered. That is, until I went into my AP Computer Science class one afternoon.

I went to a small school in Brooklyn, NY – The Secondary School of Journalism, and there were only 11 students in my class. Our teacher, Mr. Slabodsky told us about an intriguing competition called Samsung Solve for Tomorrow. Mr. Slabodsky wanted our class to form a team and compete in the contest by applying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to tackle a real problem in our community, and convince the judges at Samsung that our idea was a good one.

It sounded fun and prestigious – but could a few students from Brooklyn really accomplish all that?

Mr. Slabodsky noticed these thoughts from the looks on our faces and assured us that this was all attainable – even though the past finalists didn’t look like us and had more resources. We were encouraged and began throwing around ideas the whole class period.

Everyone on my team liked the idea of combating student hunger. The thing was, how could we be innovative with our application of STEM principles towards such a large problem like hunger?

My classmates and I were inspired to try and tackle student hunger because we all had peers who struggled to stay focused when they didn’t have a hot home-cooked meal at night. Their situation helped our brainstorming process move quicker. We were driven by the adrenaline, excitement and possibility that we could make a difference. If we did, it would help our friends.

Our Solve for Tomorrow project idea involved creating an app and video. Honestly, it wasn’t easy. The feelings of self-doubt Mr. Slabodsky had helped us overcome when we first learned about the competition were resurfacing. It was also the first year our school had offered coding, so we had to multitask as we tried to learn the basics and create an advanced prototype.

As we began to see the video demonstrations roll in from other schools, we realized that maybe we were in over our heads. Certain schools had outside connections and knew how to go about creating a project for a STEM competition. We tried not to keep our hopes up as we sent in our video demo for the next round.

Fast forward a bit from those challenging moments to Pitch Day, where all of our hard work would finally pay off.

We had our whole school cheering us on as we went to Washington D.C. for the final phase of the competition. Looking back on the experience today, that week remains the highlight of my senior year.

The biggest thing I learned from pitch week was that I had a voice. Even though this was my first time presenting in front of judges, I felt empowered because they believed in the idea our team worked so hard on. The best part was, I didn’t have to do it alone. I was part of a team that loved to code and create digital designs. A team that I shared laughs and good times with. Throughout high school, I was used to doing everything on my own, but Solve for Tomorrow made it clear that teamwork is the only way to succeed.

When we won, I felt so grateful that I could share this once-in-a-lifetime moment with true friends.

Gabriela Florencio and her teammates with NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at Solve for Tomorrow’s April 2017 Washington, D.C. pitch event. (Photo credit: Jocelyn Augustino)

A group of high schoolers turned UN Panelists and advocates

As we took the train back home to New York, it felt as if our fairytale had just ended. It was time to go back to reality.

As luck would have it, the story didn’t end there. We were invited to speak at the United Nations about how our app could be used in foreign countries to help combat hunger, especially among women and mothers. It was a dream I never knew I had. Later, I was invited to voice advocacy for combating student hunger as part of WE Day, the UN’s inaugural event created for youth empowerment and worldwide development. The event drew thousands of students and featured speakers like Whoopi Goldberg and Justin Trudeau. And the opportunities to learn and grow didn’t end there.

Samsung Corporate Citizenship Intern: Gabriella Florencio

Two summers later, I accepted an offer to be a Corporate Citizenship intern for Samsung! The summer intern program allowed me to explore potential career paths and present my ideas to several company executives, including Tim Baxter, President and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America.

Since 2016, I’ve collected various items from my time with Samsung Solve For Tomorrow. They hang proudly on my bedroom wall.

And now…

I was able to extend my summer internship with Samsung for the fall. I am in my second year of college. I have experienced so many life-changing moments, big and small, that will stay with me forever.

If it had not been for Solve for Tomorrow, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for activism and philanthropy. I realize now that my current internship is a direct result of that day in my High School AP Computer Science class with Mr. Slabodsky.

This has all made me a better student and a better person. It is already shaping my future.

The citizenship team I work with is my Samsung family. Years later everyone on my high school Solve for Tomorrow team and I are still good friends. I love them all.

It turned out that Samsung, that huge company that I didn’t really know much about actually changed my life. If you’re a high school student or teacher, it can change yours too. Apply for Solve for Tomorrow.

About The Author
Gabriella Florencio is a Corporate Citizenship intern at SEA. She is a Samsung Solve for Tomorrow National contest winner from 2016/17. Currently a rising sophomore at the City College of New York, she is studying International Relations.

Are you a high school student or teacher? Learn more about Solve for Tomorrow and apply.

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