Gitanjali Rao honored at White House ’Girls Leading Change’ celebration

First-year MIT student and former Time "Kid of the Year" honored for promoting science and innovation among youth and inspiring them with several inventions.

MIT first-year student Gitanjali Rao was honored at the first Girls Leading Change celebration held at the White House on Oct. 11, which is also the International Day of the Girl Child.

Fifteen young women were selected by the White House Gender Policy Council for their work as leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists, educators, authors, climate change activists, and health care advocates. First Lady Jill Biden recognized the group at the celebration and thanked them for their hard work, achievements, and strides toward making positive change in their communities and across the country.

Rao, from Lone Tree, Colorado, was nominated by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for her work promoting science and innovation among youth, locally and globally, and inspiring them with several inventions.

Before the ceremony, honorees had the opportunity to socialize with each other and spent a night bowling in the White House bowling alley. They also toured the White House, and First Lady Biden took them to a flower garden where they picked flowers to make bouquets for the ceremony.

"Dr. Biden was very down-to-earth and very connected to the community. The event was her idea because she wants to see social change happen," says Rao, adding, "I focus on STEM, and there is an overlap between STEM and climate change, including the contamination of natural resources. Teenage mental health overlaps with gun violence and many other things. We are all interested in the lack of education for women, especially in third-world countries."

"Right now, I plan to major in biological engineering and minor in entrepreneurship and innovation. MIT was my dream school. In the last few months, I have really grown up living on the campus and in the labs," says Rao. "My dream is to work on developing solutions to some of the most complex problems in our communities, and possibly someday run a biotech company."

Rao is no stranger to inventing, conducting research, and undertaking projects to make the world a better place. Among her inventions are "Tethys," a patented solution that warns of lead levels in drinking water, a service named "Kindly" that uses artificial intelligence and neurolinguistic programming to help stop cyberbullying on social media, and "Epione," a device for early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction.

She is also the author of two books: " A Young Inventor’s Guide to STEM: 5 Steps to Problem Solving for Students, Educators, and Parents ," which is currently available worldwide in five languages, and " A Young Innovators Guide to Planning For Success ," coming out in June 2024.

Before she applied to MIT, Rao spent time on campus conducting research at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research , where she worked on a system that would deliver medication to cancerous tumors more quickly. She also did research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

"The Koch and Broad institutes are magical places. I loved working there. There are so many smart, dedicated people with a singular aim to solve some of the biggest problems around us," says Rao.

Her extraordinary accomplishments landed Rao on the cover of Time as its first "Kid of the Year" in 2020, at the age of 15.

Rao is looking forward to exploring MIT even more. She will soon start an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program project in the lab of Professor Manolis Kellis at the Broad Institute. After meeting MIT Institute Professor Robert Langer at a conference in Florida, she is inspired to work at a biotech firm next summer.

"Dr. Langer is one of the nicest people I have met, and his constant encouragement means a lot to me. I hope I get to work on some of the groundbreaking work that organizations like Moderna are doing," says Rao.

In her free time, Rao enjoys playing the piano, andá-- after recently getting her pilot’s license - flying gliders. She loves music, is a huge Taylor Swift fan, and hopes to join the fencing team.

Of her White House experience, Rao says, "I met incredible women who want to change the world. Everyone is passionate about what they do. They are people I would like to collaborate with in the future."

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