Countdown to White House Science Fair: Meet Amena & Juan – Teens Changing the World through Online Games

This week, we’re introducing you to some of the amazing young minds who’ll be sharing their wares at the White House on May 27 at the 4th-ever White House Science Fair. You already met Girl Scout Troop 2612 – a group of amazing seven- and eight-year-olds who designed a flood-safe bridge out of motors and legos. Now meet two ambitious high-schoolers who built a company specializing in online games for good.

OSTP Science Fair Amena & Juan

Juan Ramos, 17, and Amena Jamali, 16, from Dallas, TX, will exhibit their innovative online game at the 2014 White House Science Fair.

Juan Ramos, 17, moved to the United States from El Salvador two years ago, barely speaking a word of English. He quickly caught up and, with classmate Amena Jamali, 16, launched JJ New World, a company that creates software programs specializing in online games. The students’ premier game, “Better than History” helps players think critically and view the world through a more informed lens as they navigate alternative endings to true historical events. Amena and Juan plan to use the income raised from their business to fund scholarships and poverty reduction programs in India and El Salvador, their families’ countries of origin. Juan and Amena won 1st place at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) North Texas Regional Business Plan Challenge, and were Quarter-finalists in NFTE’s National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

We asked Amena and Juan a few questions as they get ready to head to Washington, DC, for next week’s Fair:

Tell us about your project. How did it come about?

Amena Jamali: “Our invention, Better Than History, is a video game for the PC platform that allows the player to ‘step into the shoes’ of historical figures and make the decisions they made… The experience will aid the player in learning from the past and in honing critical thinking skills by posing the timeless question ‘what if.’ Drawing on our passion for history and positively impacting the lives of others, this idea, this video game, has truly captured our imagination.”

Juan Ramos: “…Because of our passion for history and video games, we were able to come up with this idea that will teach its players critical thinking, decision-making, and a variety of different skills that are considered fundamental to succeed in this society.”

What is the coolest thing about science, engineering, and inventing?

Amena: “I find it fascinating that these fields are always changing and changing rapidly. If used correctly, these fields can truly improve how our world functions and better the lives of countless millions in ways from medicine to access to education.”

Juan: “I think it’s amazing the fact that they can be used as vehicles of social change; for the improvement of our own society.”

Why do you think it’s so important that everyone participate in science – especially girls?

Amena:” Science has the potential to revolutionize society, and both girls and boys can offer unique, individual insights into the field. Careers in science, especially for girls, can change personal and family circumstances and offer the potential for a better life.”

Juan: “I think it allows people to implement their ideas and it gives them the opportunity to think critically about different issues happening in their communities.”

What inspires you?  How do you hope to inspire others?

Amena: “Innovation and new creative ideas inspire me. I love discussing ideas I encounter with my family and friends, and I enjoy learning new things. I hope to inspire others through my own passion and showing how my ambition is only limited by my dreams. Anything can be possible with the right mindset and intention.”

Juan:” Inspiring others inspires me. Realizing that I am the hero I have been waiting for has allowed me to encourage my peers to realize the same thing. I have discovered a fire inside me that has enabled me to inspire others, and I plan to use this fire to keep inspiring my generation.”

Stay tuned right here to meet more of the amazing girls and boys participating in this year’s White House Science Fair, and join the conversation by following @whitehouse and @whitehouseostp and using #WHScienceFair.

Becky Fried is Deputy Assistant Director of Strategic Communications at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

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