AI4ALL participants tell all—summer camps get girls involved in AI and tech

AI4ALL, a nonprofit working to increase diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence, believes that all students should have the opportunity to learn about AI and explore its applications. We share the same belief, and have gotten more kids involved in computer science and technology by donating to organizations like Code.org, building programs like Made with Code and CS First, and most recently helping AI4ALL expand learning resources for underrepresented youth. With a $1 million grant from Google.org, AI4ALL can scale their nationwide summer camps that spark student interest in AI and help them build foundational technical skills. The Google.org grant will also create a new digital curriculum that will introduce students to fundamental AI concepts.

To learn more about AI4ALL’s impact, we caught up with Tess Posner, CEO of AI4ALL, as well as two program alums: Ananya Karthik, who recently led an AI and art workshop in Oakland for Bay Area middle and high school girls, and 15-year old Ekanem Okeke, who participated in the AI4ALL Stanford camp this summer. Hear from Tess and Ananya in this video, and read on for an interview with Ekanem.

Supporting diversity and inclusion in AI with AI4ALL
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Here's Ekanem at the AI4ALL Stanford camp

Ekanem Okeke participated in the AI4ALL Stanford camp this summer. We chatted with her about her experience:

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
My name is Ekanem Okeke. I am 15 years old. I was born in Ottawa, Canada, but for the past three years I’ve been living in Michigan with my family. I have two sisters and one brother. Having lived in Canada for the majority of my life so far, I am fluent in French, but I would really love to learn Korean and Japanese. I also enjoy reading, drawing, playing soccer and basketball, and watching anime. Lastly, I am fascinated with astronomy, biology and science in general.

What was your experience with computer science and AI before camp?
Prior to attending AI4ALL, I hadn’t seriously coded. I’d heard of the development of autonomous cars using AI, but other than that, I didn’t know all that much of the applications of AI. Of course, I was curious about AI and programming before attending AI4ALL, but I hadn’t acted on that curiosity yet. Nevertheless, I am in a very CS-heavy family as both my parents are engineers and my sister is also on her way to becoming one.

What was your favorite part of camp and who were your fellow participants?
I don’t think that I could pick a favorite! I really enjoyed listening to guest speakers, like Professor Jeanette Bohg’s talk comparing computer vision to human vision. Prof. Dan Jurafsky's talk on Natural Language Processing (NLP) was also very fascinating as he discussed using NLP to evaluate police bias. Along with these talks, we watched technical demonstrations and even managed to fit in field trips to Google’s headquarters and the beach!

My fellow participants were really cool and helpful—bonding with them was a high point of the experience. We also had a pretty diverse class, with people from nine states and nine different countries. I even met a fellow Canadian!

What did you think about your field trip to Google?
I definitely think that the most enriching part of the whole experience was the panel we attended at Google. I found that all the panelists had something interesting that they were working on and something unique about their history with AI. It displayed the interdisciplinary nature of AI, as the panelists had very different jobs that all still related to AI, such as health research with machine learning.

What was the subject of your team project and what did you learn while working on it?
While at camp, I was in the robotics group that focused on autonomous vehicles. In our group, we attempted to model the navigation system that would be implemented in an autonomous vehicle. To accomplish this, we used proportional–integral–derivative controller (PIDs) and Dijkstra’s algorithm. The PID controllers worked to enable our robots to follow the lines on our map, while Dijkstra’s algorithm enabled the robots to plan efficient routes. By combining these two algorithms, the robots were able to navigate themselves from one destination to the next.

Leaving camp, has your perspective on AI changed? How?
I’ve learned how AI can solve problems. Before camp, I saw AI as somewhat of a super tool, a technology that could be used to change the world. However, I didn’t really understand what AI actually does. After the camp, I’ve come to understand AI in a more realistic sense. I now understand how to utilize AI as an actual concrete piece of technology.

What excites you the most about AI?
I think the most exciting thing about AI is that it is very much a blank canvas. The broad scope of how interdisciplinary AI is makes it such an interesting and curious field. Although AI is not some kind of all-powerful tool, it is a new technology that can improve one’s daily life. AI’s usefulness is really just limited to our own imagination, and there’s many more possibilities available beyond an autonomous car.

As you look to the future (no pressure!), do you have a sense for what you might be interested in pursuing?
Through this program, I was exposed to many things, which allowed me to picture my own future in any career. I’ve really come to understand that there are a lot of amazing specialized careers that I haven’t heard of before. Attending AI4ALL really encouraged me to follow my passions and turn my passions into a career. As a result, I feel like it would be a waste for me to decide what I want to do right now when there’s so much out there and so much to come.

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