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Stanford Hosts AI Camp for Girls

A summer program at Stanford University introduced high school girls to artificial intelligence. Among the activities they learned more about were flying drones, how autonomous cars work, diving robots and machine learning for healthcare.

The two-week AI program was developed last year by Olga Russakovsky, a Stanford postdoctoral researcher, and Fei-Fei Li, associate professor of computer science and director of Stanford's AI Lab. They were motivated by a "desperate" need to bring more women into the field. As Li told the girls during their first day, as explained in a blog entry, AI could in the future become the "Terminator next door," or follow a more humane direction, based on the people behind the scenes doing the research and development work.

The students were introduced to the concepts of design thinking, inductive reasoning, the growth mindset and time management.

They met and interacted with women who work at companies such as Google, Intel and Airbnb, and held Q&As with industry representatives, such as Maria Klawe, the head of Harvey Mudd College, where just as many women as men — and a sizable number of students from other under-represented demographics — have undertaken STEM studies.

Throughout the two weeks of the camp, teams of participants undertook research projects. This year's projects studied the use of natural language processing to assist in disaster relief, using computer vision to make hospitals safer, decoding DNA and examining personal transportation in the era of the self-driving car.

In each of its first two years, the program received more than 200 applications for 24 spots. While more than three-quarters of applicants (76 percent) came from California, students from across the country and other countries also applied. Sponsors make the camp itself free to the students, although room and board aren't provided. (Those who attend from out of the area stay with friends and family members.)

Student Epiphany White, who attended from Fort Wayne, IN, said the chance to speak with Klawe was a highlight for her. "Her message was so great," White said. "We were able to talk to her and ask her questions. She really encouraged us to stay in the computer science field and dig deep into it." When she returns home, she noted, she intends to start a computer science club at her school.

An emphasis on building community was also important to program organizers. "Over breakfast, they would braid each other's hair and at the same time talk about AI and their research projects," said Russakovsky, in an article on the Stanford website. "The program provides an environment where it's cool to be a girl interested in AI."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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