Film, Philosophy, STEM: I Want it All

One of the best parts of going home on breaks has been telling people who knew me before college that I’m majoring in computer science. The look on their faces is PRICELESS because I was never a STEM person growing up; instead, I thrived in the Humanities, loving History and English and wanted to be a teacher for roughly eight years.

This semester, I’m taking two Humanities classes for fun. One of them is a philosophy class called Science, Technology, and Culture, taught by Professor Collin Rice whom I

Loving my second class with Professor Rice.

had Intro to Logic with last year. Did you know Philosophy of Science is a thing? I wish I’d known about it sooner, as it’s really interesting. In the class, we talk about topics like nature versus nurture, innateness, and twin studies, among others. As a Humanities-turned-STEM-person, I now see how my twin brother was nurtured towards STEM growing up as that’s where he thrived.

 

 

My twin brother, me, and our dad.

Fraternal twins on the T-Ball Twins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The class recently discussed Larry Summers’ claims about how women are innately inferior to men in STEM subjects. Nearly everyone in my class had strong opinions on the topic, and we realized that society led to men’s brains being typically (but not always) better at numbers-based tasks because women were historically confined to the house and childcare. At least some things can be TAUGHT because they’re not innate.

Larry Summers, former Harvard President.

The other class I’m really enjoying is Professor Shiamin Kwa‘s Films of Wong Kar Wai, a Chinese film class on a well-known arthouse director. It’s neat to watch all of the films made by one director in the order he directed them, taking note of his idiosyncrasies across films and seeing how he grew with experience.

Professor Kwa, queen. (If you can’t tell, I highly recommend taking a course with her before you graduate.)

 

I won’t spoil too much, but he has a thing for using clocks and time, the same actors, certain food like pineapple or pie, long panning shots, interesting use of color, and more. The class has had some amazing discussions and I look forward to them and our film screenings each week.

Wong Kar Wai, one of my new favorite directors after this semester.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honestly? I love the freedom of being able to take both STEM and Humanities courses in college. Some other favorites have included Sociology of Harry Potter and Romance to Bromance, both in my sophomore Spring. It’s really neat to see overlap between classes and work experience, like how I’ve been able to cite research on emotions from my thesis in both Science, Mind, and Culture and the Films of Wong Kar Wai this semester.

Recently, Silicon Valley engineers have come under fire for not understanding ethics or their user base. The primary reason? They didn’t take enough Humanities courses in college as the majority of them did not have the freedom to take classes outside their engineering majors. Luckily, that won’t be a problem for my classmates and me.

March Madness: Celebrating our Lancaster Ave. Neighbors

Fun fact: the first time a boy called my home landline was in first grade to bet on our March Madness brackets. Needless to say, my mom was not impressed, but she’d be happy to know that I have not bet on sports since then (though I still fill out a bracket every year).

Students on-campus at Bryn Mawr follow March Madness in different ways. Some go to local bars or restaurants to watch, cheering on their hometown or favorite teams. On Saturday night, I went to local Gullifty’s (about a ten-minute walk from campus) with some friends to watch Villanova take on Kansas. It was a great game, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was crazy. My friend Abby Brewster ’18 and the other Kansas fan there bonded over their shared support for what was considered the opposing team. I’d recommend the appetizers and drinks at Gullifty’s, and the service was great.

“Trusting the process” at Gulifty’s with Mariam Haider ’18, Abby Brewster ’18. Picture by Kara Breeden ’18

Gullifty’s bar and TV setup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday night, students watched Villanova take on Michigan in the final in our Campus Center, organized by my friend Devica Bhutani ’18.

“V” for Villanova in the Campus Center with Rachel Terry, Devica Bhutani, and Mariam Haider (all ’18)

As soon as Villanova won, we ran to drop off our bags in our dorms, get bigger coats, and ran over to Lancaster Ave. where we expected many people to be celebrating. The celebration was much larger when Villanova won two years ago, but this year, Villanova had an Easter holiday around March Madness final time, so we had to walk about twenty minutes to Villanova’s campus to see the celebration. We saw Haverford people as well, and it was honestly a highlight of my senior year walking there with classmates and friends around midnight.

It was an amazing feeling to laugh and cry amongst friends and classmates as we watched a neighboring college win the NCAA men’s basketball championship for the second time in three years. It felt almost like our own school had won, and though I’m sad I could not attend the Villanova parade, I’m so happy for Philadelphia again.

Senior Dinner with President KCass

Two things happened this week that made me wake up and realize, “Hey. I have a little over a month left of college. I need to make the most of it.”

  1. I submitted the second draft of my thesis Developing Applications to Compare Methods of Teaching Emotions. (more on that in this blog post.)
  2. I attended my Senior Dinner.

The Senior Dinner is an unofficial tradition unique to Bryn Mawr. Seniors are given the option to attend one of three dinners with our president, Kim Cassidy (lovingly known as KCass), taking place at the President’s House, Pen-y-Groes.

Pretty plates in the President’s House!

Outside the President’s House with Devica Bhutani, Zhoe Rub, Mariam Haider, Mian Horvath, and Abby Brewster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Way back in September 2014, we had an ice cream social for first years at the President’s House. It was neat to come full-circle and be back almost four years later. As I’ve seen in Professor Shiamin Kwa’s Films of Wong Kar Wai class this semester (more on that amazing course here), this is an interesting film technique: characters are in the same place, but in different stages or places of their lives. Yeah, I got emotional and pensive.

It was neat to talk with our own President, something that probably does not happen at most colleges. I may have fangirled a bit when she sat down next to me and right off-the-bat asked about our tennis match versus her alma mater Swarthmore the day before. We learned about her childhood (her parents were both teachers) and she completed all the pre-med requirements at Swat before realizing she, too, wanted to teach. KCass also played tennis her first semester of college (#twinsies)!

A lifelong Philadelphia sports fan, my friend Devica bonded with KCass over the 76ers’ recent wins and Villanova’s recent championship. It’s neat to be able to get to know our President so personally, and I’m grateful for her time.

Though I’m hard at work finishing up my thesis and with tennis season, you bet I’ll be making the most of the next few weeks of senior year.

 

 

Bringing it all Together: My Senior Thesis

The Computer Science major offers two options to seniors: make a senior thesis or make a senior project. A thesis is typically more theoretical and involves research, and a project is typically more hands-on. Mine is interesting because it is a combination of both.

When I was in fifth grade, I volunteered at a local school for kids with disabilities called Bridge School, and then in high school I volunteered with Special Olympics and at the Stanbridge Academy for students with “mild to moderate learning differences and social communication disorders” where my mom works in the library. All of those experiences (as well as watching the TV show the Good Doctor) inspired me to want to develop applications to help people on the Autism spectrum.

The Good Doctor show, about a doctor with Asperger’s.

My mom sent me this image of a poster at her school meant to teach students to recognize and identify emotions, and that poster gave me the idea to digitize and gamify that very same design.

I’ve developed a series of web applications to teach emotions. The first web app uses static images, the second one uses gifs, and the third one uses video with sound. Each app has different levels (identifying emotions, guessing what someone might be thinking, and responding to a face), and I am currently working to see which type of graphic is better suited towards teaching emotions. I’m also working on an iOS application, but that has a separate login system and database.

A gif and chart show how a user performs after each level.

Early version of the iOS app

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been really neat to take this idea from the design sketch below, to the current version hosted on Digital Bryn Mawr at esiegle.digital.brynmawr.edu, where students can make their own personal websites or web applications. You can help me by going to that link above and answering the questions yourself! (although they are designed for people on the spectrum.)

This was my initial design sketch!

I’ve never done a project of this scale before, so I’ve learned a lot about organizing and cleaning up code, implementing a variety of APIs (I use Twilio, PubNub, Cloudinary, and Giphy), as well as different languages and libraries (I use Python, Swift, JavaScript and JQuery, HTML and CSS, and more. I’m so grateful to my Senior Seminar advisor and the department chair Dianna Xu, my thesis advisor and Haverford professor John Dougherty, and my classmates who have reviewed and edited my (now thirty-page) paper.

I can’t believe I’ll be presenting my thesis in a few weeks! Time to get back to it. What was your senior thesis?

Running from my Problems: #PhillyLoveRun

I joke I have to pay to participate in a half-marathon because no one could pay me to do it otherwise. I went with some friends from Bryn Mawr, but we were in different flights. Here are some things I learned and thought as I ran through Philly in the 2018 Philly Love Run.

Post-run celebration with Stephanie Cao’18

  1. When your legs get tired, run with your heart. Long-distance running is very mental. The first two miles were so cold, I was thinking, “I can’t do this. I should have trained outside.” The next seven had me thinking, “I can do this.” The following two had me running for my grandmother who can’t run, and my old middle school teacher and coach who recently passed away. The thought of them kept me going.
  2. It was really neat to see people of all ages, backgrounds, and body sizes running or walking the half marathon. It was empowering and made me keep going when I wanted to stop.
  3. It’s all about goal-setting. The announcer near the starting line talked about runners from around the world and country, some of whom were trying to run a half-marathon in every state. That’s a new bucket list item of mine.
  4. Don’t chase the competition, chase the dream: It’s all about making yourself better. Everyone starts at different times even if you’re in the same flight, so when you pass someone or run past, it is unclear who is running faster. Instead, you must focus on yourself and yourself only: you are trying to get your best time.
  5. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. I paced myself slowly, worried that my legs would suddenly fail me. By the time I realized I had enough energy left in my tank, it was almost too late. I finished the last mile in roughly 9:27, sprinting past runners who had passed me a while ago because I had paced myself. Similarly post-run, I got all-you-can-eat-sushi with some other Bryn Mawr runners. In order to maximize our sushi consumption, we paced ourselves. See? Running is applicable to real-life situations!

I’m on a running high!

I’m still sore from the run, but I’m not sorry I did it: I set a PR (personal record) of 2:30:00, with a fairly consistent time for each mile, hovering around 11:26. I loved seeing parts of Philly I wouldn’t otherwise see (the Strawberry Mansion, one hill in Fairmount Park, and more), and ones I do sometimes see (Boathouse Row, Eakins Oval, the Philadelphia Art Museum, and more). This experience will only make me better and stronger both in school, in work, and in life. I’ll see you on the trails or running paths!

What’s Next?

For most of my high school and college career, I’ve always thought about what came next, and how what I was doing that day, that week, or that month contributed to what I wanted to achieve in the coming year or years. Tennis, student government, and tutoring were large parts of my middle and high school careers, so I wanted a college where I could pursue all of those. Though I haven’t stuck with two out of three of those activities, I still look ahead to the future constantly.

In college, I’ve worked on side projects to beef up my engineering resume. I’ve attended competitions and conferences to learn skills outside the classroom and to network. At the end of last summer, I had a return offer for my dream job at a dream company on a dream team (I do a field of tech called developer evangelism that involves coding demo applications to showcase possible use cases of technology, in addition to traveling, teaching, writing, judging competitions, public speaking, and serving different technical communities, among other tasks.) A question I asked a mentor and myself was, “What comes next? What if I get too comfortable? What can I possibly do after landing my dream job before I start my senior year of college if I don’t want to eventually become a manager?”

A fun app is still work: it shows realtime basketball statistics

I was genuinely curious and torn. And you know what my mentor/teammate/friend who had gone through the same dilemma said? He told me that it is not in our natures to be stationary. Once we achieve one goal, we push the next goal back. We constantly work, grind, and push ourselves.

These are traits I’ve found in classmates, teammates, professors, and alumnae I’ve met or worked with. Mawrtyrs constantly learn on the go or on the job, teaching themselves new skills unrelated to their major or field. That’s something our liberal arts background has prepared us for (me in particular: my coursework in philosophy, English, East Asian languages and cultures, sociology, math, and of course computer science, has prepared me for a job that works across disciplines.)

So what’s next? Starting in August, I’m fortunate to be paid to develop apps, travel the country and world attending and speaking at conferences and events, and write technical tutorials. I also plan on taking on an extern from Bryn Mawr or Haverford as soon as I can on Fall and Spring breaks and on training to be a tennis referee. After a few years (this goal timeline is purposefully left vague), I can see myself co-founding a tech company (inspired by my extern host, alumna Susan Morrow ’90) or becoming a Chief Technology Officer. I can also see myself quitting tech, coaching tennis, working as a line judge at professional tournaments, or helping run a professional tournament. Maybe I’ll go get an MBA, or go into animation, or become a yoga instructor.

A Bryn Mawr tech talk on animation at Pixar

Once I have my dream job, I’ll find a new dream job to work for. Though I don’t know what that will be, I do know I will live more in the moment, as I’m confident my experiences have prepared me to be prepared for anything that comes my way, and I will always be learning.

Exploring Chinatown

One of the perks of not being home in San Mateo, CA often is that my parents let me eat a lot of my favorite food when I am home. At home, there’s a wide range of ramen places to choose from, but in Philly, I had only found one: Terakawa Ramen, located in Chinatown, which always has a long line.

This past Spring Break, I spent a day in Chinatown with some of the tennis team. When Terakawa had an hour-long wait at 2:15pm, we found Megumi Ramen instead. We were seated immediately, but it would have been worth a slight wait! There was a wide variety of broths and different types of meat to choose from. It was rich and not too salty. Megumi also had vegetarian ramen, which is something my favorite ramen places in my hometown lack! The tennis team highly recommends this place in Chinatown, located at 915 Race St.

Chicken shio ramen

 

After eating, we walked around Chinatown. We shopped the Sanrio store for cute posters, pens, and socks, got some baozi (buns) at Saint Honore Pastries bakery (935 Race St.), and then stopped for boba tea at Tea Do before posing for a picture by the Chinatown Gate, shown below.

Teammates at Chinatown gate with our coach’s daughter

Next, we walked past Independence Hall, Declaration House, the Liberty Bell, and some other historical sites. We didn’t have practice that day, but I still got in my 15,000 steps!

I can’t wait to explore Philly again.

#BrandYou: Estee Lauder Companies Visit Bryn Mawr

On Monday, February 26, some Senior Vice Presidents of the Estee Lauder Companies visited Bryn Mawr. Many students crowded in the beautiful Rhoads Dining Hall for catered lunch and to hear from them about their experiences, jobs, and the art of branding ourselves. Here are some of my key takeaways from the great event, put on by LILAC (Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center):

  1. “You are your own brand.” This could mean many things, but to me, it means everywhere you go, you represent a type of business: yourself. You must sell yourself and put your best self out there. What’s your brand? I know mine is tech, but also teaching, empathy, and, at times, something fun like Disney or table tennis.
  2. “Everything you touch has your name on it. Everything can be your job.” This means that you should take risks and do jobs that aren’t necessarily related to your role. SVP Lisa Napolione started out at the company as a 17-year-old intern who was studying chemical engineering. She went into research and development (R&D), and progressed upwards in the company by trying new things even if it wasn’t on her to-do list or in her job description. Everything she did or everyone she talked to helped represent who she was as a person, as an employee, and her reputation.
  3. “Your reputation is in the details.” SVP of Global Management Strategies and Chief of Staff to the President & CEO of Estee Lauder Companies, Phoebe Farrow Port, talked about frantically trying to find a lipstick freebie before an opening or product launch. Her hard work for that seemingly minute task did not go unnoticed as she helped the launch succeed and make customers happy.
  4. It’s more important to have learning agility than to know everything.” Be open to learning and growing rather than memorizing and already knowing, and don’t be intimidated by not knowing something!
  5. Companies and startups have board of directors that advise the CEO. We, as individuals, are CEOs of our own personal brand, and should have our own board of directors to mentor or advise us. You don’t need to tell them that they’re on your board of directors, of course!
  6. “Science and technology are like glue…we connect, we bond, and we join.” It was really interesting to learn about the company’s 80% women tech team, the history of the company, and what they’re doing in STEM. Yes, they have the typical team of chemists and biologists, but a growing number of software engineers to manage different online platforms and a 3D printer!

On Broadway, Princesses, Stereotypes, and Multidimensionality

Two summers ago, right before I started my first internship in a male-dominated field, my mom told me not to wear pink, not to laugh, and to just try to fit in. It took time for me to feel comfortable acting a certain way, and I even acknowledged my love of Disney and Broadway this past summer in a company blog post. Though it’s 2018, many still don’t take women seriously because of how they act or dress, like what happened to Jess in the TV show New Girl, below.

My name is Lizzie, I quote Disney almost every day, I wear pink, and I also read a lot of baseball and basketball (fiction and nonfiction) books.

A little over a year ago, I was listening to my usual mix of Broadway and Disney tunes when the YouTube recommendation algorithm suggested I watch a series of videos called the Broadway Princess Party. I didn’t really understand what that was, and only recognized a few of the singers (but all of the songs)…and I was hooked. Every actress in the Broadway Princess Party was assigned a princess (the term is loose, some were not royal but just main female characters.) Where else could someone watch the actress who played Jasmine on Broadway in Aladdin sing songs from Pocahontas? Or Moana? The sky was the limit!

This past Sunday, I made the 1.5 hour trek to New York City to see the Broadway Princess Party in-person with a friend I met in NYC this past summer. Gwen is a well-known iOS engineer and conference speaker who (like me) also happens to love Broadway, Disney, poetry, yoga, art, and the color purple. When the Broadway star singing Snow White updated the lyrics to make them more modern, “woke”, and feminist, I scanned the room and noted the diversity of audience members in attendance. I thought it was so cool to see people of all genders, backgrounds, and ages who were interested in a show called the Broadway Princess Party. (If you’re wondering, it exceeded my already-high expectations.)

A few summers ago, the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign took off because people didn’t believe a woman in an advertisement was an engineer, showing that even in the 21st century, people still have preconceived notions of what someone who does a certain job looks like.

I’m fortunate that I’ve never felt that I had to change myself to be taken seriously while at Bryn Mawr. Here, I’ve found friends, classmates, professors, and staff who are multi-dimensional. When I think of a computer scientist, a biochemist, or a philosopher, I think of a woman because they’re the ones I’ve been surrounded by these past four years. They all challenge stereotypes of typically-male-dominated fields.

I hope to do the same, and I’ll do it while wearing my Pride and Prejudice earrings, Mulan shirt, and panda earmuffs.

Has anyone ever misjudged you before because of preconceived stereotypes?

 

#FlyEaglesFly: the Eagles Parade

I was in the Campus Center with many classmates and fellow Mawrters last Sunday night as we crowded together to watch the Philadelphia Eagles’ monumental win over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee hosts a Watch Party with food, raffles, and fun each year, but this year was different. It was a battle between students who had grown up in the area or students (like myself) who are from another state against students from New England (for the most part–and there are a lot of students from the Boston area.)

The atmosphere in the Campus Center that night was electric, fun, and intense, regardless of which team you were rooting for. I went back to my dorm and heard screaming in the halls, and fell asleep to sounds of fireworks going off. When I woke up, I saw posts from friends who had gone into Philly to watch the game and some pictures of the aftermath of the celebration.

That celebration continued throughout the week, especially with the Eagles’ celebratory Super Bowl Parade. It was such a huge event that Penn classes were canceled and SEPTA schedules were modified for the day, forcing many to find alternate forms of transportation. I spent the night at my friend Devica’s (’18) house around half an hour away with Rachel Bruce ’18, and we got up at 5:30 a.m. to be at the station at 6:20 a.m. with Hannah Terz ’18 for a 6:50 a.m. train. The line was already long when we got there, and we almost didn’t get on the train!

Line for SEPTA around 6:20am

The train went straight to Jefferson Station, and we speed-walked past Reading Terminal Market to get to Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the parade would be going by. We waited in the cold for over five hours, but we were in the first and second rows of people, and the overall excitement, happiness, and positivity radiated off of most people there. Devica was so close, she high-fived a few players!

Overall, it’s been an eventful, spirited, and joyous week. I love the hope that seems to radiate from the city now. Even if there are more parades, they won’t be like the first one!