Day 9: Computational sustainability, graph search, and research projects!

Day 9 of SAILORS kicked off with a Q and A breakfast with assistant computer science professor Stefano Ermon. The campers asked Professor Ermon a variety of questions ranging from his academic career to his personal life. Professor Ermon also talked about his experience growing up in Europe and moving to the United States to pursue his career. 


After the breakfast, campers listened to a lecture delivered by Professor Ermon about computational sustainability. The girls learned how AI could work hand in hand with sustainability to improve and preserve the environment. Professor Ermon suggested that once data is collected and interpreted from the world, it could be inputted into models and, using computational techniques, optimize and improve policies.


A short break followed the morning lecture. Afterwards, the campers participated in a tutorial about graph search taught by PhD students Abigail See and Steve Mussmann. Students learned how graph search algorithms have been implemented in the commercial, search and rescue, and domestic worlds. They also learned how such algorithms have been used in maps and in games. After learning about breadth first search and depth first search, campers interacted with online demos that exposed them to other algorithms like A* search and Dijkstra’s algorithm.


During lunch, the girls ate and then relaxed by playing ultimate frisbee and cards.


After lunch, the campers had a persona growth session. During this session, the girls listened to a lecture about public speaking. 


The day concluded with a 30 minute break and a session with research groups. Project groups worked on their posters and planned what they will say tomorrow for the poster and presentation session. With only one more day left in SAILORS, we can’t wait to see what the girls have accomplished and learned!

Day 7: Hexacopter Demo, Stereotype Threat, and Meeting Jackrabbot

The morning began with breakfast with Professor Mykel Kochenderfer, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and director of Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory (SISL). Kochenderfer talked about everything from balancing work in academia and time spent with family to his interest in flying planes as a teenager, which ultimately influenced his work today.

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Prof. Kochenderfer shares a personal anecdote on college life at Stanford University.

Following breakfast, Prof. Kochenderfer led a lecture on intelligent decision making under uncertainty, particularly in the case of collision avoidance. Aware of the limitations within the current TCAS system, Kochenderfer’s research led to the creation of the Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS X). Campers learned all about the models and algorithms powering ACAS X, such as Markov Decision Processes (MDP) and dynamic programming, which collectively make planes safer.kochenderfer lecture

Prof. Kochenderfer’s PhD students, Rachael Tompa and Louis Dressel, then led a tutorial on the effects of tweaking parameters on PID controllers, which regulate systems as simple as thermostats at home!

The campers then embarked on a trip to Lake Lagunita for a demo on hexacopters. The girls learned the effects of tweaking the proportional and derivative parameters on the stability of the drones.

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Campers tweaking parameters of the PID controller to smooth the sharp jolts and turns of the hexacopter.

In the afternoon, the campers engaged in a personal growth session on combating stereotype threat with Gregg Muragishi, a PhD student at the Department of Psychology of Stanford University. Muragishi emphasized the importance of developing a growth mindset, especially in times of overcoming the “culture of genius” surrounding workplaces and institutions alike.

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Activity: Campers pouring their frustration with challenges onto a piece of paper.

After the personal growth activities, the campers were met with a surprise visit from Jackrabbot, a new-generation social robot. Created in the Computational Vision and Geometry Lab at Stanford University, Jackrabbot was designed to learn how to mingle among humans in crowded spaces while following proper etiquette. When asked about the possible applications social robots like Jackrabbot could have on society, the girls mentioned everything from making traffic more efficient at train stations to assisting the blind!

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Campers volunteer to demonstrate the instinctive social behaviors that Jackrabbot observes and learns.
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Campers follow the gaze of Jackrabbot, which has its eye on the moving chair and maneuvers accordingly.

The day concluded with campers continuing their research in their respective projects, which include assisting with disaster relief using natural language processing, decoding DNA to find meaning in the genome, making hospitals safer with computer vision, and predicting the future of personal transportation with self-driving cars. As the days count down to final presentation day, some campers have already started making plans for creating poster boards and discussing the skeleton of their talk!

Day 6: Machine Learning, Clustering, and more!

Day 6 kicked off with a breakfast with Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Statistics Percy Liang. The campers asked Professor Liang everything from what his current research is about to what his childhood experience was like. Liang also talked about working for Google and in academia, and contrasted those two experiences. 


After the breakfast, Professor Liang gave a presentation about machine learning. Campers learned the basics of this AI topic and were exposed to various implementations of machine learning in the real world. Liang concluded the lecture with resources, such as online blogs and classes, on how to learn more about machine learning. 


The campers participated in a tutorial about clustering, taught by Aditya Grover and Steve Mussmann, who are both CS PhD students. Students learned how clustering can be implemented in the real world, such as in medical imaging, neuroscience, business and marketing.


After the engaging tutorial, the campers enjoyed a lunch with various members of the AI lab, including professors and PhD students.


A personal growth session about time management, given by Melissa Avila, followed the lunch. The campers learned how creating a schedule, prioritizing tasks, setting specific goals, and being realistic can make a day more efficient. They practiced prioritizing tasks by playing a game in teams where certain actions were assigned a point value and the goal was to score the most points in an allotted time. 


The personal growth session was followed by a social hour. The girls talked to each other, the TA’s, and the junior counselors as they recharged before the last event of the day. 

The day concluded with a session with the research projects. Students learned more about the research topic. 

As the 6th day passes by, we can’t wait for the remainder of the week. 

Day 4: Computational Linguistics, Industry Panel, Keynote Speaker and Banquet!

While munching on breakfast, the girls engaged in the daily Q&A session, today with Christopher Manning, professor of computer science and linguistics at Stanford. Specialized in computational linguistics, Prof. Manning answered questions campers raised on the challenges natural language processing (NLP) faces when deciphering languages that are not nearly as explicit in meaning as is English.


manning_lecture2Professor Manning then led a lecture addressing the ambiguity of language and the problem with multiple interpretations. The girls learned why the ability for machines to really understand is critical to machine translation. Manning emphasizes, “viewing thought and reasoning like language leads to the symbolic view of classical AI.”

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Following the lecture was a tutorial led by Idit Kosti on the Fisher Exact test and using statistics in gene expression analysis.

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Lunch was exciting with Maria Klawe, first female president of Harvey Mudd College, joining in and really getting to know the girls.

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Despite the packed schedule, research project time was not neglected. In fact, campers managed to spend nearly three hours learning and coding for their respective projects projects.


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During today’s personal growth session, women in industry currently working for top companies like Google, Airbnb, Intel, and Baidu shared their experiences and gave advice to the girls on being female in computer science. When asked what the most important traits to have in order to be a successful engineer are, the panelists replied “communication” in consensus. One woman explained, “As women, we have tendency to hold back.” Others emphasized just how important it is to speak up to others and to fight the natural urge of women to dismiss their own individual thought. Another panelist from Airbnb explained, “I think the perception is changing…a lot of people are now more encouraged to pursue other passions other than what they are expected to.” Adding on to that thought, a woman from Google encouraged having other interests related to computer science too that can help girls identify with and understand the coding work they do even more.

Keynote Speaker: Maria Klawe

Maria Klawe delivered an influential talk on diversity in schools, both in gender and in race. Maria Klawe’s philosophy on a healthy learning environment is helping and learning from peers and faculty of diverse backgrounds and gender, a culture she has successfully ingrained into Harvey Mudd College. She has brought both males and females to equal proportions at Mudd, and has risen the percentage of minorities such as African Americans or Hispanic people. A firm believer that change is possible, she’s now with SAILORS in asking the world: What’s stopping institutions elsewhere from doing the same?

Reception Dinner

While SAILORS campers, parents, mentors and friends from industry seated in the patio just outside the Gates Computer Science building, Professor Fei-Fei Li, Iro Armeni, and Olga Russakovsky delivered welcome and closing speeches, and discussed just how important it is for girls in their early years of high school to start getting exposed to AI and computer science. Because these are the girls that are going to be the leaders of tomorrow in changing AI and the revolutionaries pushing for humanity.

Then came what everyone was waiting for: the exciting presentations on the four research projects by the girls themselves! The girls explained each of their projects, from assisting with disaster relief using natural language processing to making hospitals safer with computer vision, and from decoding DNA to find meaning in the genome to predicting the future of personal transportation with self-driving cars. Each girl had the opportunity to speak on what the project means to them personally to an audience seating over a hundred people. The girls came out confident and absolutely showed their eagerness and enthusiasm!

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Reception during sunset, with Gates building to the left
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Olga Russakovsky cheering SAILORS girls on!

What a long and exciting day! We hope the girls get well rested for another day of AI and fun!



Day 4: Robotics Demos and Field Trip to Computer History Museum

Day 4 began with a relaxed breakfast where the girls had a Q/A session with SAILORS teaching assistant and operation chair Pamela Toman.

Campers then had the opportunity to engage in a lecture about robotics with Dr. Mohammad Khansari. The presentation covered a wide range of topics ranging from the types of robots to the impact of robots in the real world. Many robots, such as haptic touch robots and underwater robots, were also demo-ed during this session. Students had the opportunity not only to learn how these machines worked, but also got to interact with and control the robots.

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After the lecture, the students had another session with their research projects. A field trip to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View followed the research project activities. Prof. Edward Feigenbaum, Penny Nii, and Sue Mickel led tours that taught students everything from the evolution of computers to the development of AI.

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From seeing the Babbage engine, the world’s first automatic computing machine, to learning about notable women in computer science history, like Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and women of ENIAC, the museum trip proved not only to be fun but also educational.


As Day 4 draws to a conclusion, we hope that the campers are just as excited as we are for Day 5!