The First InteGIRL
By: Ann Shen and Daphnie Lu
"Everyone wants to make a change. From picking up litter on the street, to building new houses for children in need, people are always looking for a way to leave their mark on the world."
Everyone wants to make a change. From picking up litter on the street, to building new houses for children in need, people are always looking for a way to leave their mark on the world. Joy Shi, an incoming freshman at Caltech, saw the accepting community of girls at a math competition and decided that it was her chance to make that change for the better. In 2018, during her junior year, she founded InteGIRLS, an all-girls math program with the mission “to foster and promote girls’ passion for problem-solving and ignite a sense of community for girls by creating team-based and community-building competitions and events.”
InteGIRLS was born in September 2018, when Joy attended a math invitational at MIT. Seeing so many talented girls around her solving problems sparked the idea to bring all-girl math competitions back home to DC. “ I just thought that there would be a market for it; I felt like a lot of girls would want to participate.” MIT researcher, Dr. Ravi Boppana was also at the event. A month later, Joy emailed him telling him about her idea to start InteGIRLS. At the time, Joy had no sponsors or funding. Soon enough, a $500 dollar donation from Dr. Boppana arrived on her front doorstep. She says, “This idea was worth at least $500. And I couldn't just throw it away, I had to, you know, move through with it. I had to start to work on it.”
Over the next few months, InteGIRLS passed several major milestones. Finding a venue proved difficult as they had little funding. However, she was able to find a helping hand. “One of my friends was a part time student at a local community college and they actually built a brand new Building Science Center and she referred me to her math professor...he helped us coordinate with the people who manage the campus and we were able to secure this brand new building... with lots of classrooms for free for a day.”
After getting a venue, Joy decided to register as a nonprofit. Although it might have been easier to start as a school club, Joy had big aspirations for the future. “If I run it as a school club this is all it can be. It can only be a school club. If I want it to grow at some point, then I have to look further in the future. So I decided to register this as an actual nonprofit.” The following month she was able to put her team together. They came from different parts of the area and all went to different schools. InteGIRLS initially registered under the name Math Girls Maryland but in January, Joy had a breakthrough. “I was just trying to think of a pun of math and girls and then all of a sudden it was like an epiphany. It was a eureka moment. InteGIRLS just popped into my head.” And thus, the name InteGIRLS was born.
When asked about a challenge she faced, Joy admitted to being a passive leader and painfully shy. Additionally, for Joy, InteGIRLS was the first program where she was in a leadership position. Lack of experience and her introverted personality were roadblocks that Joy had to overcome in her journey as a director and founder. However, she had the support of her team. “[On the team were] some of the most talented people ever. They really knew what they were doing. Of course, we were all new to organizing events, but we really worked well together. And we really pulled that off and honestly, it was a whole… team's effort.” That chemistry within the team is exactly what helped them overcome the obstacles they faced.