Guest Post by Michelle Zhu, Stanford AI4ALL ‘17
AI4ALL Editor’s note: Meet Michelle Zhu, a 2017 Stanford AI4ALL alumna and current high school student. In this blog post, she shares her experience participating in Computer Engineers of the Next Generation (CENG), and teaching elementary and middle school students how to code. Learn why she wants to help inspire the next generation to participate in tech, and how she found a sense of fulfillment through outreach.
Every Wednesday after school, instead of scrambling home to get a head start on my AP CS homework, I get a ride to the local elementary school for the weekly meeting of the Computer Engineers of the Next Generation (CENG). There, I meet an excited and talkative class of twenty-three 5th and 6th graders and spend an hour and a half teaching them how to code in Scratch.
CENG is a highly fulfilling experience, both for its high school teachers like me and its younger students. I get to spend my afternoon with kids who want to learn how to code and are interested in what I’m teaching them. It’s a truly successful class that provides students with skills they’ll need in our tech-centric environment.
In the highly competitive, thoroughly stressful environment of the San Francisco Bay Area, it can be hard to find a way to positively impact communities and others’ lives. When those around you are filled with brilliant ideas and the means to execute them, it’s easy to be discouraged from trying to make a real impact. From a young age, I’d never felt particularly unique or individualistic amongst the thousands of others whom I believed to be just like me.
Even so, I’ve seen real passion in people like Fei-Fei Li and Olga Russakovsky, who work so hard to spread their influence to us through programs like Stanford AI4ALL. They are people who want to make the future brighter, and they invest so much time and effort so that people like me can be inspired and given opportunities.
In July 2017, I attended Stanford AI4ALL, a fairly new program at Stanford University created by the organization AI4ALL to encourage girls to get into AI.
Stanford AI4ALL was an intense experience where I met all kinds of girls from all over the world who amazed me with their ideas, motivation, and voice.
Despite AI4ALL’s incredible efforts to connect us to resources and the impressive professors and engineers who taught us about AI, I still wasn’t sure I could put the things I learned and inspirations I gained to real use when the program ended.
A few months later, I joined CENG, a club that holds coding classes for elementary school age students. There, I applied for the AI4ALL Community Outreach Grant — a resource provided by AI4ALL to support AI4ALL alumni — and CENG began to grow. With grant funding, we expanded CENG to hold more classes at each school we taught at and began offering more computer languages. I realized then that AI4ALL had made an impact on both me and CENG.
Because of the resources I gained from attending Stanford AI4ALL, I’ve been able to help CENG reach out to underrepresented minorities and spark the interest of more kids in STEM and CS fields. Through CENG’s new Inspire project, we show students the things they are capable of accomplishing in the future through the success stories of underrepresented engineers in the computer science field.
In CENG — when I see students from all kinds of backgrounds lost in their screens, each trying to make their maze games go above and beyond what we’ve told them to do — that’s when I have hope that we’ve shown them a glimpse into what they could accomplish in CS.
Stanford AI4ALL showed me the accomplishments of people currently in AI fields whose accomplishments I dream of reaching one day. I want to create possibilities for the next generation so that they can grow up feeling confident in their abilities and in their individuality.
Whether it’s innovating transportation through autonomous cars or saving the world from climate change with technology, everyone can find their niche in the world-changing field of AI.
At Stanford AI4ALL, one of the inspiring things our mentors told us was, “In five to ten years, remember to hire me!” Despite the joking pretenses, it made me feel smart and respected. I want the next generation of kids to feel the same way. I’ll continue working with CENG and at other volunteer opportunities, because I’ve seen the power of outreach.
Michelle Zhu is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in California. She is passionate about CS and the impact it can make on the world and the future as the frontier of modern civilization. Michelle is a Staford AI4ALL ‘17 alumni who volunteers at CENG, where she teaches code to elementary school students. She also enjoys robotics, and spends most of her time competing on her school’s FRC team. She plans on pursuing CS and AI in the future.