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Samsung Solve Alumni Series: Where Are They Now? Gabriella Florencio



Name:Gabriella “Gaby” Florencio
Today:Graduating Senior at City College of New York, with a degree in Creative Writing
Plans for Tomorrow:To pursue a “storytelling” career in journalism, campaign copywriting, or news feature writing, focused on telling the “everyday stories” of “everyday people”
Ties to Samsung Solve for Tomorrow:I was a High School Senior at The Secondary School of Journalism (now the Cyberarts Studio Academy) in New York City. I was a 2016/17 Solve for Tomorrow National Winner. Our team developed an app to connect students experiencing food insecurity (like many of the students we knew in our own urban neighborhood) with local restaurant partners who had excess food that would otherwise go to waste.

What was your path from Samsung Solve for Tomorrow STEM competition winner to where you are today?

Actually, it all started with my interest in journalism – my high school’s focus. Journalism was changing dramatically in my high school days, becoming much more digitally focused, with technology increasingly important to storytelling.

Our small class, 11 in all, was taking computer science – it was the first year the school taught coding. Our teacher Mr. Slabodsky told us about Solve for Tomorrow. While it sounded fun and prestigious, we were concerned whether a few journalism students could realistically compete against schools with more STEM experience, resources, and tech connections. Thankfully, Mr. Slobodsky had faith in us.

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

As our team built out the app, telling our story became increasingly important. I learned that in STEM, execution is important – but so is explanation. I became heavily involved in our presentations, and with making our Solve for Tomorrow submission video.

Once in college, I was privileged to serve as a Samsung intern – using my journalism skills to tell stories of Samsung’s Citizenship programs through social media.

So, for me, there’s been a very direct line from Solve for Tomorrow to now getting ready to graduate from CCNY and start my professional career. My dream is to use my storytelling expertise to be a voice for everyday people.

Tell us about the origin of the food security app idea.

As a writer, it has always been important to me to focus on “everyday” things. That’s how our project started. When our class began brainstorming ideas for a Solve for Tomorrow entry, I recalled hearing my mom – who was a school aide – talk about how much food she would see going to waste every day from the cafeteria. Meanwhile – our class all knew other kids in our neighborhoods who experienced food insecurity but didn’t want to let others know it. After identifying that problem, then thinking about how technology could bridge the gaps between hungry kids and places with extra food, and do it confidentially, creating an app was a natural.

What’s the most important thing you learned or took away from Samsung Solve for Tomorrow?

I’ll sum it up in one word – confidence! When Mr. Slabodsky suggested we should enter Solve for Tomorrow, we had our doubts. But as we moved forward in the competition, we got more excited. Winning some Samsung equipment in the early rounds, we felt more confident in ourselves. Our class began feeling more was possible, and we really dug in on our project. When we were chosen as National Winners – I felt I could do anything. For me as a writer – Solve for Tomorrow gave me confidence that my ideas were worth listening to. That inspiration has carried me through to today and will be with me into the future.

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)

What’s your advice to STEM students and teachers who might consider entering Samsung Solve for Tomorrow next year?

Focus on simple things – the everyday problems of the everyday people around you – and what you can do to create positive change. We focused on hunger – one of the most everyday problems there is. There’s a word I’d hear during my Samsung internship that sums up what the most exciting and engaging Solve for Tomorrow projects have in common – STEMpathy. Projects that start with students exploring issues that negatively impact their friends and neighbors – projects that they can FEEL need fixing, to help people they can EMPATHIZE with. And then figuring out how to creatively use STEM to fix them. If you do that, whether or not you make it to the finals – it will be a win for you and your community.

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