Every month during the school year, CBS4, along with its partner PDC Energy, honors a high school student excelling in science, technology, engineering, or math — STEM. The Future Leaders winner gets $1,000, and a profile on CBS4 News.

DENVER (CBS4) – The newest Future Leaders winner is quite accomplished, including recently being named Time Magazine’s first ever Kid of the Year. Gitanjali Rao is a sophomore at STEM Highlands Ranch, but at age 15, she’s already making tangible progress to remedy some real world problems.

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(credit CBS)

“There’s always like a mosaic of sticky notes on my walls, because I’m always thinking of ideas and coming up with something to solve,” Rao told CBS4.

Rao has more than ideas, she’s making solutions.

“Tethys is a device that detects lead in drinking water, faster and more inexpensive than the current methods out there today. It uses a carbon nanotube sensor technology and sends all the results to your mobile phone in an app I created,” Rao explained in one of many videos she’s made to explain her inventions.

Epione is a device she developed that diagnoses prescription opioid addiction at an early stage. It uses biology, and genetics, and a phone app.

“What makes it even cooler is it has a whole bunch of action items, including a map of the nearest addiction center, and physicians’ offices,”  Rao told CBS4.

(credit CBS)

“What is Kindly? How did you come up with that? What does it do?” CBS4 Meteorologist Ashton Altieri asked.

“Kindly is an artificial intelligence-based service to detect and prevent cyber bullying,” Rao replied.

The app flags concerning words and phrases, and sends up an alert.

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“Kindly’s self-evolving, and self-learning surface is able to learn about the latest emojis, memes, and slang used,” she said.

This 15-year-old has honed a five-step process to turn her ideas into innovations:

–Observe
–Brainstorm
–Research
–Build
–Communicate

“I use the mnemonic, Old Bananas Regularly Belong in Cake, and it’s a great baking tip as well,” Rao said with a smile.

Ted Talks, Forbes 30 Under 30, Time’s Kid of the Year, and a regular keynote speaker as many conferences, Rao is taking the world by storm. But it’s her workshops with a rural school in Wyoming that excites her the most.

(credit Deanna Braunlin)

“It’s almost like we feed off each other’s energy. I mean the whole class makes me excited to continue teaching and learning, and I make them excited to continue evolving their innovation dreams,” she said.

The class is 5 students, who will someday have the power of innovation at their back. Rao doesn’t just want to solve problems, she wants to teach everyone how to solve problems.

“I’m really seeing that idea that people do want to make positive change, and they do want to be innovators. They just don’t know where to start, and that’s almost an unacceptable answer for me,” Rao said.

LINK: Future Leaders Application

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You can nominate a high school student who’s excelling in STEM for a chance to be the next Future Leaders winner.

Libby Smith