From SAILORS to PixelHacks: building STEM community
Guest Post by Catherine Yeo, SAILORS ‘15
Prior to SAILORS, AI4ALL’s education program at Stanford University, the extent of my knowledge of artificial intelligence was extremely limited. So limited, in fact, that my conception of AI was largely shaped by ideas developed nearly a century ago in Alan Turing’s two groundbreaking papers about the automatic machine and intelligence. I never imagined that I would actually be able to apply AI and, at SAILORS, use natural language processing to parse and categorize tweets from Hurricane Sandy.
After seeing the large influence SAILORS had on encouraging me to pursue computer science and AI, I wanted to reach out to the community and encourage more young women to learn about STEM/AI too. I started small at first, just mentoring a local math circle and Girls Who Code club weekly. As time progressed, I realized that the simple act of mentoring and guiding others to enjoy the STEM field had quite a positive impact. Middle school girls who had never coded prior fell in love with the prospect of designing and creating programmable content. Students also began to see math as a subject of beauty and creativity, rather than just a dry and monotonous school class. Thus, I decided to expand my efforts to influence the community even further. I set up math and computer science classes/workshops in my town, either at my house or at the public library near my house. My largest endeavor yet, however, was definitely organizing PixelHacks, the Bay Area’s first all-female high school hackathon.
Founded by three high school women — Eva P. (SAILORS ‘16), Elina Y., and Sandhya B. — and myself, PixelHacks was created on a mission to increase the presence and active participation of women in the field of technology and was open to aspiring female programmers of all levels and experience. Numerous prizes — such as scholarships, 3D pens, gift cards, and beacons — were awarded to the winning projects. With the help of many mentors, workshops, and nearly 25 sponsors, the two-day event was a major success in presenting computing and technology as fun and enjoyable to the attendees.
One theme that stood out to me the most from my time at SAILORS was the diversity of AI applications. Artificial intelligence (and computer science generally) is such an interdisciplinary topic, with many different practical applications. That was something our team emphasized at PixelHacks.
To show how diverse and interdisciplinary technology can be, we allowed everyone to have the freedom to create a project that solved a community problem of any topic of their choice. Within the 24 hours attendees were given to design and code a software project, the PixelHacks participants had created a variety of projects, with topics ranging from helping autistic children to climate change to education.
Some projects even incorporated AI concepts. For example, the climate change project, Save Percy, utilized computer vision and natural language processing to engage with the user and help the user determine their carbon footprint.
After the event, I was pleasantly surprised at the far-reaching impact a short 24 hours had on the young women. Most attendees had never attended a hackathon before, and some were even completely new to programming. Despite that, 94% of the attendees remarked that they want to attend more hackathons in the future and 88% responded that PixelHacks positively influenced their views about computing and technology.
Months after the hackathon, I continue to see fellow attendees at other hackathons; I’ve even received emails from some attendees about their newest coding projects! It is extremely encouraging to see more women find interest in the technology field and hopefully this trend will continue in the future.
Similarly, I am glad to see the impact of AI4ALL and SAILORS expanding across the country. I am definitely looking forward to all of our efforts grow in the future as we continue to “SAIL on.”
For more information about PixelHacks, please visit www.pixelhacks.com. To learn about other hackathon and technology-related opportunities, especially for high school women, follow PixelHacks on Facebook and Twitter.
Catherine Yeo is a rising senior at Stanford Online High School. Since attending SAILORS in 2015, Catherine has co-founded and directed PixelHacks, taught math and computer science workshops in her community, and served as a mentor to the San Jose Math Circle. An avid Android & iOS app developer, she received a scholarship to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in 2016. She was named a she++ #include Fellow and a Spirit of Ramanujan Math Talent Initiative Fellow in 2017. Currently, Catherine is doing number theory research.