In America, less than 23% of all jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are staffed by women. Project Upgrade was created in hopes of shifting this staggering statistic by inspiring a new generation of young women to pursue a career in STEM by making it relatable, fun and aspirational. The show features YouTube megastar creators The Merrell Twins as they conceptualize a revolutionary consumer project and work with successful female engineers/entrepreneurs from across STEM, and college aged coders/builders to design and build the product in three days.
Our strategy for Project Upgrade was to first create the space on set for the same breakthroughs we wanted young girls in America to experience regarding STEM. So what does this mean? We specifically chose two Youtube creators who had no experience whatsoever with science, technology, engineering, technology, or mathematics. Veronica and Vanessa Merrell are brilliant Youtube creators with a knack for comedy and lifestyle commentary but they’re newbies when it comes to STEM. We saw this as a fantastic reason to bring them on board the project because they represented young girls across America who didn’t see a career in STEM as a violable option. So before filming one scene of Project Upgrade, we surrounded the Merrell Twins with female mentors from Disney, Space X, NASA, who made them feel comfortable in the uncomfortable. These mentors helped them throughout the pre-production product conceptualization process. Because of this guidance, the Merrell Twins felt confident hosting the series and using their own new experiences as lovers of STEM to help young girls tap into the same power within. Project Upgrade features 100% women in front of the camera and 98% women behind the camera, this is important because if our goal is to promote inclusion for women in STEM, we also need to ensure that women are not only represented but also occupying all key roles in the production. We brought in a female set designer to create the first ever female hacker space at Youtube space, this environment was important because historically technological environments skew towards men, leaving women feeling unrepresented and uncomfortable from and aesthetic standpoint. We included a live studio audience of 10-14 year old girls to watch the final build, interact with the mentors and engineers, and participate in the final unveiling of the product.
Project Upgrade was released on the Merrell Twin’s Youtube page, and their target demo is 10-14 year old girls— we received 2.3m organic views on Youtube, 190k likes, 50k thumbs ups, and 5.5k comments— however it’s important to note that because 10-14 year old girls aren’t allowed to have their own personal Youtube accounts, they frequently engage in co-viewing with their parents and friends. This means that each view for Project Upgrade should be multiplied by 3 or 4. The first season has been shown in junior high classrooms across the country which is a dream come true for us considering our goal was to help young girls across America see STEM as a viable career path. We were so happy that as a result of Project Upgrade, tens of thousands of 10-14 year old girls across the country, who had never before coded, took part in the google logo challenge, essentially using code to create their own custom google logo. They then sent the logos in and the Merrell Twins commented on the logo submissions in real time during one of their videos. Here’s a link to the Google CS in Media microsite - viewers visited this site to participate in the challenge. Here are links to the Merrell Twins original video and reaction video.