Pittsburgh teen finalist in Snapchat's #MyFutureMe contest
Like most teens, Anna Nesbitt uses Snapchat every day.
She has long streaks of messages back and forth with her friends, quick photos and videos snapped throughout the day with text, stickers, flower crowns, dancing hot dogs, face-swaps and more.
"It's my main communication with my friends," Nesbitt said of Snapchat.
But unlike most teens, Anna's work on Snapchat has won her national attention and inspired her to make a better future.
Anna, 14, of Regent Square, a student at Winchester Thurston and member of the Girls of Steel Robotics team, is a finalist in Snapchat's #MyFutureMe contest. Her entry was one of five selected out of more than 22,000 submissions.
"Woah, what?" Anna said was her response upon hearing the news. "That's amazing."
Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, partnered with Google's Made with Code program for the #MyFutureMe contest. It challenged teen girls to design a geofilter that reflected their image of the future. A geofilter is a border or graphic that Snapchat will add to posts based on a user's location. Geofilters around Pittsburgh's Downtown feature bridges while ones at PNC Park are baseball-themed.
The five finalists flew to New Orleans at the beginning of the month to attend the TEDWomen conference and meet with tech luminaries, entrepreneurs, artists and activists. The finalists worked with Google engineers and designed a Snapchat lens, an augmented reality feature that places a drawing in the real-world photo taken on a phone.
Anna's geofilter combined her love of robotics, her hope for technology and her belief in the power of ideas. The geofilter features a lightbulb in the upper left corner, a circuit board design around the edges and the text "This is just the beginning," in the lower right corner.
"To show that my future is just beginning," Anna said.
Anna also wrote a 100-word essay to accompany her geofilter explaining her vision of the future. In it, Anna described a future where everyone has equal access to robotics and technology.
"When everyone has access to these things, we begin to see our similarities," Anna said.
Those similarities quickly crowd out our differences, she said, and we come to see ourselves as one people, not as contentious groups.
It's a future Anna is already working toward. Through Girls of Steel, Anna works at summer camps focused on robotics for younger children and mentors teams of elementary students. She's working with third-graders now and building Lego robots.
Last summer, Anna helped run a summer camp designed for girls who hadn't seen or interacted with a robot before. The girls came from disadvantaged neighborhoods where schools and families didn't have the means to access robotic technology.
That same summer, Anna went to Washington with Girls of Steel to advocate for more funding for science, technology, education and math in schools.
When Anna entered the #MyFutureMe challenge, she certainly didn't expect to win. It was a way to put off doing homework she didn't want to do. She also didn't expect it to change her life in the way that it has.
While in New Orleans, Anna met Justin Baldoni, an actor on one of her favorite TV shows but also someone she admires for advocating for feminism and redefining masculinity. She also met Avery Bang, a young woman building footbridges in developing countries to connect people. Anna said she thought she could do with robotics what Bang does with footbridges.
That would be her long-term goal, Anna had thought.
"That's changed," Anna said. "Why am I waiting? Why am I not taking the initiative now?"
The grand prize in the #MyFutureMe contest includes an all-expenses-paid trip to California to tour the offices of Google and Snapchat and meet with the leaders of the companies. The winner's lens will be made available on Snapchat.
As a finalist, Anna got to expand upon her original 100-word essay describing her vision of the future. She finished it and submitted it this week. In it, she connects her dreams to what she's doing now. The distance between the two isn't as far as it once was, Anna said.
Anna hopes to hear if she won by Thanksgiving.
Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.