Melanie Shimano ’14, MSE ’15, is the founder and director of the Food Computer Program, a STEM-based initiative that teaches Baltimore City high school students to build and code “Food Computers,” which control and monitor tabletop greenhouses that grow vegetables. This work earned her a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list this year and on the Baltimore Business Journal’s 2019 list of 40 Under 40. Shimano, who studied chemical and biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins, is now a faculty member in the Whiting School’s Center for Leadership Education.
What inspired you to create the Food Computer Program?
I’m passionate about building programs and developing public policy to enable us and future generations to thrive in an evolving digital economy. My work as an entrepreneur and a data analyst in city government led me to realize the importance of understanding the root cause of problems, and then using technology to enhance, scale, and advance solutions built on community needs. I founded the Food Computer Program to provide hands-on and real-world technology learning experiences for students.
How has the program been received?
The program has been an amazing experience for the students and community members involved. Students learn and play with open-source technology to build Food Computers, then apply this technology and their STEM skills to develop solutions for real challenges they face in their communities, such as food deserts. Baltimore high school students have worked on many community-focused solution projects, such as teaching coding workshops to middle school students and running a pop-up restaurant at R. House that used Food Computer-grown herbs for sandwich sauces. The pop-up earned more than $5,000 in one weekend.
What challenge will you tackle next?
I’m working with staff at the Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters to create more open-source technology and urban agriculture programming opportunities that we can incorporate into other middle and high schools in the Baltimore City school system. I’m also working with some community members and JHU students who are interested in working with these students and educators across the city.