Guest post by Maya De Los Santos — Princeton AI4ALL 2018 alum
AI4ALL Editor’s note: Meet Maya De Los Santos, a Princeton AI4ALL 2018 alum and Changemaker in AI. In this post, she shares her experience at our Princeton summer camp, where she was empowered by learning about imposter syndrome. She tells us about how she learned new technical skills, built a community, and got to discuss AI ethics issues — then she brought her new knowledge back to school and formed her school’s first AI club.
When I had first heard about AI4ALL, I never believed that I would be capable of being part of a program that focuses on artificial intelligence.
The only times I had ever really heard the term “AI” was in reference to sentient robots and their alleged plan to take over the world. That school year, I had just begun learning how to program in Java, and although I immediately fell in love with the subject, I was not fully confident in my skills. The thought of attending a camp with other students to program AI was intimidating to me, and unfortunately, there was a point at which I thought it would be best to not even get my hopes up. To this day, I am grateful to my computer science teacher for encouraging me to apply even when I did not believe that I was qualified. After that point, I finally took the time to look more into AI4ALL’s mission and was pleased to find that it geared its program towards minorities, as well as young women.
Personally, I feel that AI4ALL’s emphasis on diversity is what ultimately stuck out to me the most — the idea that there was a computer science camp that aimed to help people like me gain an interest in a growing field. I finally felt that I would have a place at this camp to build on both my knowledge and perspective of AI.
When I received the news that I was chosen to attend the camp, I was over the moon with joy. For me, one of the most memorable moments took place on our first official day where Professor Olga Russakovsky shared with us the notion of imposter syndrome, or the pattern in which a person discredits their accomplishments and believes themselves to be a fraud. From the very beginning, she made it clear to us that we all deserved to be at the camp, and that we should always remember to celebrate our accomplishments no matter how big or small. I do not think I realized it at the time, but looking back I genuinely believe that her presentation allowed me to truly enjoy the rest of camp without feeling anxious about not being good enough.
From then on, things ran smoothly. We had the opportunity to hear lectures from various AI experts regarding a large range of AI topics. One of the things I appreciated about the curriculum was that although we worked on mini programming projects and talked about the technical side of AI, we were also given the chance to discuss the ethical and moral dilemmas that arise in the field of AI, which I found to be equally fascinating. Additionally, every student was involved in one of four main AI project challenges at camp, so we were able work in groups to apply the skills we had learned earlier that day to our own project. The projects that we had the choice of participating in included using AI to investigate how a child’s upbringing may affect their future, discover how autonomous cars function, program a way to distinguish and alert user’s of spam emails, and explore the connectivity and potential dangers of everyday IoT appliances.
Personally, I had the opportunity to learn and use natural language processing, or the ability of a computer to understand and use human language in order to address the real-life problem of spam emails and fake news affecting the information that is made available to people on a daily basis. All the educators at the camp were considerate when walking us through the AI material and even went as far as holding office hours so that we could come to them with questions outside of our designated class time.
AI4ALL also allowed me to form friendships with other students who were also interested in and new to AI. It was really refreshing to meet people from areas all over and discuss the differences and similarities between where we called home. I was even fortunate enough to meet a student from South Korea who I still text whenever anything Marvel-related happens!
The diversity of students that AI4ALL brings together helped me realize just how little of the world I have seen, therefore making me eager to explore more in the future.
Towards the end of our second week at Princeton, we traveled to Washington D.C. in order to meet with AI policy experts and to this day I still get excited thinking about it. Although we had had the opportunity to ask questions and test our knowledge in the classroom, actually being able to visit organizations that used AI in their daily work gave us the chance to really feel involved in everything we were learning. I feel that it also allowed for the students to bond with one another, as we were all experiencing something new together. I am so thankful to everyone who contributed to making the 2018 Princeton program possible because they made it so that the initial excitement I felt never faded, but instead expanded to the point that I am still very interested in learning all I can about artificial intelligence and how it is going to change our future.
I am proud to say that my interest in artificial intelligence did not end with the camp. When I returned back to school for my junior year, I made the decision to found and run my school’s first Artificial Intelligence Club, which is still active today. While I am sad that I cannot stay with the club forever as I will be a graduating senior soon, I am happy that I was able to build a foundation for other interested students.
My favorite part about running the club is the fact that over time the participants’ views of AI, which started out as general concern for robots taking over the world, has grown to be more thoughtful as to how AI can positively affect our society.
In addition to that, I have found that they are more engaged in the material and are even enthusiastic about leading discussions and suggesting programming activities for us to try out. Being able to see the increase of student interest over the trimesters for my club has been amazing, and I hope that I can continue to find ways to spread the love for AI with others.
Maya De Los Santos is a rising high school senior in Hackensack, NJ. She is an RPI Medalist, Japan Global Ambassador for her school, founder and president of her school’s AI club, and Princeton 2018 AI4ALL alumna.
She is passionate about her electrical engineering research in which she investigates ways to continuously communicate live data from I2C microcontrollers to a separate user-friendly platform over a Wifi device, though the mode in which the data is transmitted is flexible. Her goal is to be able to implement her project in various environments to allow her and others to monitor changes in the area, and potentially use the data to help make others aware of the serious impact we have on the world. Maya enjoys spending her time listening to music, singing, reading, finding ways to stay active, and making memories with her friends and family. Since she has started high school she has had the opportunity to teach at multiple all-girl STEM camps, where she works towards engaging girls in the exciting fields of STEM and further closing the interest gap between boys and girls. As she furthers her studies, she looks forward to using CS and engineering to address discrimination and inequality issues that affect people every day.