15 Year-Old Helps Motivate Dell Ocean Plastics Program

Last week, I joined Dell and Adrian Grenier as we hosted the Legacy of Good Change Maker Brunch — a new way of bringing together fellow change makers looking to collaborate and innovate to create positive impacts for our communities and planet.

We kicked off this meet-up at the Dell Experience at SXSW in Austin, Texas, with a panel led by the Lonely Whale Foundation Executive Director Dune Ives, joined by actor and Dell social good advocate Adrian Grenier, Dell’s packaging engineer Oliver Campbell, and artist/conservationist Ben Von Wong. It turned out to be a really interesting discussion about how these talented people are working to address the challenges facing our oceans.

Dell shares with these people a real passion for our planet—and for big ideas that disrupt business as usual and transform our world for the better—even if they seem like crazy ideas at first.

Fifteen-year-old Saanya Bhargava knows all about crazy ideas. She helped motivate Dell’s ocean plastics program after a science competition drove her and her dad, Piyush Bhargava, Dell’s Vice President of Global Operations, to dig into the question: Could Dell use ocean plastic waste in its packaging?

On February 28, Dell announced our industry’s first ocean bound plastic packaging pilot for our signature consumer laptop, the XPS 13 2-in-1. More on that story here.

Our ocean plastics work is a great example of how big ideas can result in big success, even if they take a winding path to get there. That was a shared sentiment amongst Saanya and the other three female panelists she spoke with last Tuesday, as part of our meet-up.

As the host of that panel, it was great to hear Saanya talk about how she has felt empowered to get involved in STEM. And we’re glad she did! With her dad’s support, she inspired Dell—and she continues to inspire others to think big and share ideas.

Our Q&A below with Saanya shares more about her involvement in Dell’s ocean plastics program and the Change Maker event, and how she thinks her generation can affect positive change.

Saanya is a high school student and co-founder of STEM Advocacy Conference of Texas (SACOT), a student-led organization created to help spread STEM through advocacy in local and state governments of Texas. She competes in UIL Robotics and her team won the UIL State Championship and placed 7th in the world championship in 2016.

How did you get interested in STEM and do you think STEM skills help put your sustainability passions to use? 

I have always had a strong interest in STEM subjects since middle school. This interest led me to explore a problem of ocean plastic pollution through a research paper that I wrote for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Inspire competition as well as the Google Science Fair. The analytical skills that allow you to go in-depth on a problem, presented in STEM-related subjects, have provided me a strong foundation for my journey in sustainability.

Saanya, we understand you played a role in Dell’s ocean plastics program. Can you tell us how you got inspired by ocean plastics?

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Burnett, was describing a huge plastic island the size of Texas, floating in the Pacific Ocean. This image stuck in my mind when I was looking for research paper topics my freshman year. I decided I wanted to address this issue through people who could do something about it!

My dad connected me with Dell’s Packaging Director Oliver Campbell, who was also exploring this topic. Oliver has been a great mentor. In the summer of 2016, I was able to participate in research work on the development of an ocean plastics supply chain, documented in the white paper Dell published.

I realized that the impact of my research was beyond winning a science competition—it was about changing the world.

What are the challenges of your generation in affecting positive change?

My generation has been exposed to the use of technology at a very younger age. This gives us a unique perspective on how technology can enable solutions. However, many in my generation are yet to gain credibility with key decision makers. That is why youth empowerment is a critical enabler for success.

And what are some personal challenges you’ve overcome?

Being a girl in STEM has brought some challenges. As an example, my freshman robotics team—of mostly boys—did not recognize my full potential and predisposed me to non-technical roles. I had to reach into my strengths to create significant roles using my skills and bring more parity in the team.

As I understand, my experience is very similar to what some women face in the workplace today. I have learned that staying the course and advocating for gender equality in teams is key to gaining confidence as a girl in STEM.

The idea behind the Change Maker meet-up is: when we work together, we accomplish more for our world. So how are you collaborating and what’s your goal? 

I see how collaborating with like-minded high-school students can create momentum and build a powerful voice that can influence change. I just launched a new youth initiative called impact.gravitas which strives to solve the ocean plastic problem through collaboration with companies like Dell, NGOs, policy makers, and concerned individuals. I’m pretty active on Twitter @impactgravitas with spreading awareness about the problem and what we’re doing to change it.


Karen Courter along with the Change Maker panelists who spoke about how we give a voice to our next generation of female leaders. From left: Alexis Jones, Saanya Bhargava, Mikaila Ulmer, and Tamara Hudgins.

Saanya spoke on March 14 at the SXSW Change Maker event’s all-female panel (above) focused on how we give a voice to our next generation of female leaders—an important aspect of Dell’s 2020 Legacy of Good Plan.

View a livestream of the panel discussion here, to hear more from Saanya and the other panelists including: 12-year-old Mikaila Ulmer, founder and CEO of BeeSweet Lemonade; Alexis Jones, founder of I AM THAT GIRL and ProtectHer; and Tamara Hudgins, executive director of Girlstart.

Sustainable packaging and upcycling is all part of our 2020 Legacy of Good, our commitment is to put our technology and expertise to use where it can do the most good for people and the planet. You can learn more about our ocean plastics packaging approach and program in this white paper and video.

About the Author: Karen Courter

Karen joined Dell in 2004 and currently serves as the Director of Global Takeback. She leads a team responsible for Dell’s consumer recycling programs in over 83 countries and territories as well as Dell’s Commercial Asset Resale & Recycling (ARR) Services business. The ARR Services team is responsible for asset removal, logistics and processing that allow for safe resale, recycling or lease-return of equipment in compliance with all local regulatory guidelines and best practices. Within Dell. Karen has also led many services organizations including: Enterprise Deployment, Consulting, Managed Deployment, Configuration Services, Cloud, and Rack Integration. Previously Karen worked at Applied Materials as the Materials Manager for the Asset Recovery Operation and at IBM in International Trade and Procurement. She received a BA in International Relations from Universidade Estacio de Sa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family, dancing, and travelling to places with white sand and blue water.