Kai Tota | Going A(ll) I(n) - My First Year in Outreach

Coming into UCLA, I had no experience with computer science, let alone AI. The math, notation, and coding I had glimpses of in the past were daunting, yet still I was captivated. So I applied to ACM AI Outreach on a whim. I knew there was a chance that I’d be a little foreign to the material, but I just went for it. And I am beyond glad that I did.

Little did I know that I would find the most inclusive, intellectual, and proactive family within UCLA. During onboarding, under the guidance of mentors (shoutout to Arjun and Sharvani, y’all are the best), I’m still in awe at how much I was able to learn about something completely new to me so quickly. Backpropagation, logistic regression, CNNs, and many more were all words of gibberish literally just a few months ago. I never felt intimidated or was hesitant to ask questions and I am so grateful that my mentors were able to create such a welcoming space to learn. What inspired me most was their passion for AI and teaching, and their excitement when we interns had a spark of understanding.

What I love most about Outreach + Events is how much we care—about everything and everyone. We care about the lack of diversity and inclusivity in tech. We care about the significance and ethical concerns raised by AI applications. We care about the high schools who don’t have the resources to learn about AI. And we genuinely care about each other—always offering advice and constructive criticism and checking in on each other amidst the college stress. But beyond that, I love that we take action. We created the “You Belong in AI!” Podcast to emphasize the importance of representation and diversity in tech. We hosted a Social Impact Panel to discuss the varying applications of AI. We revamped our North Hollywood High School course to better explain concepts (we even added memes!!!). And we won’t stop brainstorming new ideas!

Being a part of Outreach + Events, I am proudest of working with my team to consolidate and revise the existing North Hollywood High school content. I admire that we were able to acknowledge our faults and improve upon them to create even better presentation slides and homework sets. Through the process, I was able to see just how much my fellow officers and I have grown (I think our ability to understand AI memes on Facebook is the true testament to how much we have learned hehe). I thoroughly admire their talent, dedication, and passion to always learn more and create amazing, accessible content.

In the future, I look forward to ACM AI Outreach + Events further tackling issues of diversity and accessibility by creating content for new high schools, expanding our podcast, and organizing events discussing the social effects of AI. For Fall, I am excited to see how our collaboration with ACM Teach LA to develop Learning Labs (which highlight and visualize the more difficult machine learning concepts) will enhance the high school course. Furthermore, I hope that Outreach + Events can expand AI to non-STEM majors and the greater LA community. Despite having to shift to a virtual setting, ACM AI has not pulled the brakes!

Looking back, ACM AI Outreach + Events has taught me so much more than just about AI. I’ve learned about communication, creativity, and determination, and even more so about how much I don’t know. But I’m eager to learn and to contribute to our mission of making AI accessible to everybody alongside my mentors and fellow officers. Stick around for our many projects/events to come :)

Written on July 18, 2020 by Kai Tota