The Best Class I’ve Ever Taken

Some classes change you.

It’s taken three years, but I’m so fortunate to have taken Professor Kalyan Nadiminti’s History course at Haverford this past semester called the Global Histories of Asian American Labor.

With a total of four enrolled students in the course (five if you count one who audited the class), this class became a tight-knit family as well as a therapy group, as Ann Tran’18 so nicely put it.

L to R: Kevin Liao (HC ’18), Rebecca Cheng (HC ’19), me, Katherine Lee (BMC ’18), Ann Tran (BMC ’18), Professor Nadiminti

As Asian-Americans, we’re often forgotten when talking about people of color. We’re also often forgotten when talking about Asians from Asia. There’s a common thread amongst many Asian American lives, and that is a feeling of being in-between. A feeling of not truly belonging, of feeling stuck in between the motherland you weren’t born in and the land you were born in. It’s about being distinctly other.

We delved into so many topics related to labor from the industrial interracial adoption complex to the narrative of the Asian immigrant as a non-resident worker, as well as the different types of Asian-Americans, like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Indian/South Asian, and Vietnamese. We discussed our own families and some personal anecdotes, cried over the text Coolies and Cane (spoiler alert: Chinese-Americans were slaves, too, at one point), busted the Model Minority Myth, watched an episode of Master of None, and gave input as to which texts we wanted to read: our last text, American Born Chinesewas one that Kevin Liao (HC ’18) suggested on the first day of class.

Master of None

American Born Chinese graphic novel







As a third-generation Chinese-American, my family’s story is different from my friends’ ones where their parents came to America, or where they themselves came here as children. I saw my family’s story not just in the stories about the San Francisco railroad (which is why my great-grandfather came here in the 1800s), but also the ones about Japanese internment, about Korean adoptees, and more.

Throughout this semester, I’ve realized that I’m not alone: others have similar stories and thoughts about being asked, “what are you?” or “where are you from?”  I also realized that this is the first time I was in a classroom committed to introspection around my own personal role and where I fit in these global narratives.

There were so many mind-blowing moments this semester where I was just in awe having learned something new that I’d previously had no clue about. I grew closer to friends and gained new ones as we grappled with our identities together, and I’m so grateful to Professor Nadiminti for leading us all through it. As the semester ends, I have more questions than I had at the start of the semester and fewer answers.

Measuring Progress: Applications of Weight Training

How to Measure the Unmeasurable: Just a Feeling

This past summer, I probably annoyed my manager by repeatedly asking, “Yes, I can feel I’ve improved, but in what concrete ways?” It took me a while to realize that progress isn’t always measurable, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.

Chasing Greatness sign at LinkedIn SF when I visited classmate Stephanie Cao ’18, LinkedIntern

School: Measurable, but an Incomplete Picture

In school, you can sort-of track growth in the same way. How long does an assignment take? What grade did you get? How much time did you spend studying? However, grades are not a perfect measure: sometimes you learn a lot but your grade does not reflect it (here’s looking at you, computer graphics last year.)

Teammate/friend Abby Brewster ’18 admiring the tennis teams’ academic accolades

This year, I’ve been trying to measure my progress in a variety of areas to figure out how to improve in each. One concrete measurement I like is weight training. Many sports teams on campus have training sessions with our Strength and Conditioning coach, Courtney Morris ’99. There, we do exercises to train agility and strength, whether it be working our quick feet on the ladders, jumping rope, or lifting weights and training our upper body.

It’s easy to see after a week or so that you can jump rope faster and longer, do more repetitions with more weight, and increase the number of pull-ups, push-ups, and more that you do.

Yoga class with Courtney and some teammates! #selfcare

I like running and yoga for the same reason: you can always go further (running a longer distance, running faster, holding a pose for longer, etc.) than you thought you could. It doesn’t get easier; you just get better. Yoga also provides a nice mental break, and is good for stretching, toning, and relaxing. I love ending my week with a yoga class in Bryn Mawr’s gym.

There are so many mental hurdles when you run or lift, but by pushing through them and persisting, you grow both in the gym and off of it. If you discipline yourself there, you can definitely focus longer on school work and push yourself to understand a difficult concept that you previously struggled with.

Some of my fitness, health, and productivity stats for the day.

An amazing app I now use to measure different aspects of my life is Gyroscope. I love the visualizations which really show what you’re doing. The productivity one also shows how you’re spending most of your time (which websites or apps) and you can set goals to use apps less.




So What?

Next year, you bet I’ll be stronger and faster, and I’ll have the statistics to prove it. Will I be a better programmer and writer? You may have to take my word for it.

Tips for Thesising (so far)

My thesis will mostly take place next semester, but I’ve started planning it all out this semester. I found a thesis advisor, made an outline and schedule, and have started work on it. One reason I’m so excited to do this work is because I’m really interested in the project I’m making ([three web apps to teach people with Autism emotion recognition through still pictures, gifs with no sound, and then gifs or video with sound.] This is something I’m interested in because it’s a practical project involving lots of code [something I’ll use and do in the future] as well as testing and working with students with Autism [something I did in elementary and high school].)

Keep calm….

Here are some tips on how to get started on your thesis to make your life easier in the long run.

  1. Find something you’re interested in. This sounds simple, but I do know students who chose a topic because they wanted to work with a certain advisor, or they didn’t know what to do so they hastily chose. It’s important to do research ahead of time so you know options and so you have the time to find something you want to spend a lot of time on.
  2. Find an advisor who knows you and will support you. This was a tough one for me: not because there were no advisors who do this, but because most of the ones who were available to me had little to no background in what I wanted to do involving app development. I had to modify my original proposal and plan to fit, and found my advisor at Haverford. (this is a nice-to-have for Bi-Co students: we have more options for thesis advisors and research opportunities because we can major and go between schools.)
  3. Focus on what is necessary. To simplify my thesis, I decided what I absolutely need (in app development, that is sometimes called the minimum viable product, or MVP.) If I run out of time, the bare minimum I need to do what I need to do is in the MVP. Everything after that is secondary, extra, things that are nice-to-have.
  4. Write it down. Mapping out screens and saying, “This is what the first screen looks like, and it has a drop-down menu with the following options which will take you to these screens.” From those screens, I drew more arrows to more screens, showing the flow or order a user would see my different screens.
  5. Keep it organized with folders. I have a few folders on my laptop for my thesis, separating research (i.e. why do people with Autism focus on emotion recognition, other apps doing something similar, and more.) I have separate folders for each application, and keep my advisor updated with a shared Google Drive folder.

    Organization is so important.

  6. Constantly iterate and adapt. My project has changed so much since I first found my advisor. We’ve talked about how best to achieve different goals, and how I can get the most learning out of this. The project has changed, but the goals haven’t.
  7. Keep the proposal broad. Do your research, and explain why these goals need to be achieved to solve a problem. How you solve that problem and achieve those goals should be kept fairly broad so you can change it if need be.

There’s a lot of possible thesis topics, but not much time to do them. You can do research or something more practical and hands-on, or you can combine them. More importantly, you can do something you’re interested in.

On Courage: Bryn Mawr Sees Broadway’s ‘Waitress’

What is courage?

  • “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” -Mary Anne Radmacher
  • “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” -Harper Lee : To Kill a Mockingbird
  • “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” -Mark Twain

This past weekend, Bryn Mawr Activities took a group of students to see the Broadway musical Waitress. It is the first (and only) musical to be led by an all-women creative team, which is so important as the entertainment industry and others grow and further discussions on gender parity. Without giving away the plot, Waitress is an uplifting and fun show that centers around main character Jenna working up the courage to leave her abusive husband and start her own pie shop.

Cast of Waitress raises money at the end of the show for AIDS.

As shown by the quotes above, courage can mean many things to many people. For me, and I think many others, courage often means asking for help. When is it too soon to ask? When is it too late? Can it be seen as a sign of weakness?

Throughout the show, Jenna is supported and encouraged by her fellow waitresses and friends Dawn and Becky to leave her husband. I find courage through my friends as well: after all, teamwork makes the dream work. I wouldn’t have gotten through some of my classes had I not struggled, cried, and ultimately persevered through late nights in lab. I wouldn’t have organized events in high school or at previous internships if I hadn’t had friends to answer my questions on things like marketing, publicity, timing, food, and more.

Ultimately, however, courage comes from within. Jenna did not gain courage in the musical Waitress from her friends, family, or her doctor.

Jason Mraz as Jenna’s doctor in Waitress.

Exploring New York before seeing Waitress with Kennedy Ellison’19.

Courage is about taking risks, but also about having faith in yourself. What was Jenna afraid of? Her husband already beat and verbally abused her. At the very end, a lightbulb went off in her head, and she realized not just that she needed to leave him, but that she would do anything to do so.

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

― Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo

This quote really puts things in perspective for me, reminding me to face my fears instead of pushing them aside.

On Gratitude and (Different Types of) Families

It’s almost Thanksgiving, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m grateful for. This Friday, the tennis team went to have dinner at the home of our volunteer assistant coach, Professor David Karen, and I realized that almost everything that I’m thankful for is people. This past year has brought so many amazing people into my life, so here’s a list of them who are, each in their own way, like a family.

  1. Professor David Karen’s family:DK,” as the tennis team calls him, has welcomed us twice into his home for dinner. I loved our conversations on politics, sociology (what he and his wife both teach!), sports, New York (where he grew up and I lived this summer), and more. This year, the dinner came at a time in the school year when I almost forgot what it’s like to be in a home and not a dorm or dining hall, and I’m so grateful to the Karen’s for that.

    Feeling right at home in Professor Karen’s house.

    Professor Karen and his make-shift doorbell (sign).

  2. Hell Week family: My favorite Bryn Mawr tradition is Hell Week, also known as Welcome the First Years Week, because of “hell families.” First-years “propose” to sophomores (or juniors or seniors, but mainly sophomores) and that is their hell mom or hell parent. I have two moms (three if you count an adopted one I proposed to after Hell Week), two grandmothers, great-grandmothers, cousins, and more–you get the idea. I also now have a hell baby, and a grand-baby, and it’s just very supportive and, indeed, welcoming. Everyone on one side of my family has been at least a computer science minor, bringing us to #4:

    I visited my hell grandmother who works at Google now as a software engineer.

  3. Computer Science family/professors in general: There’s something uniting about spending a lot of time with classmates both in class, in TA sessions or office hours, and in lab late at night. This small department hosts teas, movie nights, speakers, panels, workshops, and more, and really is like a family with our professors as parents. I’m pretty sure I had some of my most heartfelt conversations with my computer graphics professor and department head Dianna Xu.
  4. Tennis family: of course. We bond over long bus and van rides, overnight trips, early morning practices and workouts, and just pushing each other to be better on court and in life.
  5. The Bhutani family: Last year, I spent Thanksgiving at my friend Devica’s house, and her family has also visited and hosted a small group for dinner and Diwali before. I honestly love them all and they remind me of my family so much in the best ways, like Mrs. Bhutani is a teacher and my mom is sort-of a school librarian.

    At Devica’s house (Bhutani family that’s not Devica not shown.)

  6. My intern/future team: I found so many mentors on my team who welcomed me as an intern and treated me like I was a full-time employee just like them. They put so much trust and faith in me, pushing me to be better and giving me their time. My favorite week this summer was when we were all together in San Francisco because the only thing better than learning from them online was being with them in-person. I’m grateful for that, and for the opportunity to continue working with them this school year as well as afterwards.
  7. My friends and family. They say to surround yourself with those you want to be like. Whether it’s my real family or my friends, I’m grateful to them all for putting up with my hopes, fears, dreams, and concerns; studying with me, exploring with me, watching sports with me; and just making me a better human.

    (L-R) Me, Francesca Caramazza ’20, Sydney Kim ’20, Mariam Haider ’18, and Julia Holeman ’20 studying together in the Campus Center.

Sisters at Seven Sisters: Wellesley Hack 2017

Twice this past summer, I had Seven Sisters moments. First, at an unconference in San Francisco, I met two Wellesley students and a Smithie. We immediately bonded and talked about women’s colleges, our respective CS departments, internships, current events, and everything. Then, at a conference in the Poconos (semi-close to Bryn Mawr), I saw those same students again, as well as some Mount Holyoke students. You could say the sisterhood was extended.

I went to Wellesley Hack to demo Twilio during Opening Ceremony

This past Friday, it continued. Wellesley hosted Wellesley Hack, a hackathon geared towards women that would be welcoming to beginners. They sent buses to all the Seven Sisters colleges, so a group from Bryn Mawr went (as well as local colleges in Massachusetts like Amherst and UMass.) I attended as a sponsor for Twilio, where I interned this past summer and am continuing to work during the school year.

BMC students at Wellesley Hack (not everyone in picture)

There were a few Wellesley alumnae present to talk on their current jobs, some of whom had not studied a STEM major. There was also boba and games like bubble soccer (as shown below.

Bubble soccer at Wellesley Hack provides a much-needed break.

Some Bryn Mawr students attended workshops, some hacked, and some explored Boston. Below, Ricki Su ’20, Connie Chen ’19, and Mikal Hayden-Gates ’19 demo their Python and Flask app that they worked on over the weekend during the final expo. The expo is when each team presents their project to judges and other hackers who walk around.

Ricki Su’20, Connie Chen’19, Mikal Hayden-Gates’19 demo their hack/app at WHACK

Ricki Su, Mikal Hayden-Gates, and Connie Chen winning a prize.

Ricki,  Mikal, and Connie winning a prize.

Much fun and learning was had by all. Friends, maybe even sisters, were made, and we will keep in touch with sponsors, mentors, teammates, and Seven Sisters we met.

Bryn Mawr Beat Penn at NCTTAs

This past weekend, the Bryn Mawr table tennis club team traveled to the Lily Yip Table Tennis Club in northern New Jersey to compete in the NCTTA (National Collegiate Table Tennis Association) regionals. We had one match versus Penn’s women’s team and we won, so stay tuned for our next competition in January in State College, PA, where we will be seeded!

I partnered with our coach, Dan, to play against a teammate and UPitt player for fun.

We’ve been practicing twice a week for a little over a month with our coach, Dan, a recent Temple grad who used to travel and compete in NCTTA events for them and is now a certified table tennis coach. We’re very lucky to have him. Practices sometimes include more club members, but we’ve been very heads-down focused on drills to prepare to compete.

Bryn Mawr Ping Pong Club Team picture. L-R: Natalie Stern (post-bac), Vinty Guo '20, Maggie Zhong '20, Coach Dan, Alice Tang '18, me '18, Alice Zhu '20.

Bryn Mawr Ping Pong Club Team picture. L-R: Natalie Stern (post-bac), Vinty Guo ’20, Maggie Zhong ’20, Coach Dan, Alice Tang ’18, me ’18, Alice Zhu ’20.

I’ve loved getting to know Dan and the rest of the team, as well as other club members who did not travel to New Jersey with us. Alice (above right of Dan, left of me) is a chemistry major and badminton player in my grade, and we share quite a few mutual friends, but had never talked until ping pong club! Ping pong has brought us closer together, introducing me to students I otherwise would not have met at Bryn Mawr. Ping pong also let us meet students at Penn, UPitt, Pillar College, and two Penn State schools this past weekend.

Playing with Pitt

Ping pong is a fun sport that can be played your whole life. It’s small, compact, and can be a bridge across generations. It’s become a stereotypical tech company staple, so I always look for company tournaments and teams when I look at offices. This past summer, it helped me get to know my teammates, coworkers, and other interns.

Serving in my NCTTA match vs. Penn

A PE teacher I had in middle school used to say “Ping pong is played by people with beer bellies while holding beer at the same time. Table tennis is an olympic sport.”

Getting low for a ball versus Penn

I’m grateful for the people I’ve met with ping pong, and grateful for the experience of going to the NCTTA regionals. The team has bonded over our mostly-shared love of K-Pop, Asian Dramas, watching Dan and some Olympians play, and more, and am excited to see what we do at the next NCTTA tournament in January.

Reaching for a ball versus UPenn

Why Bryn Mawr was the right fit for me

I’m a third generation Bay Area-citizen. My twin brother attends a state college, as did most of my mom’s side of the family (if they attended college. My dad’s from the Philly area, but I digress.) Why would I choose to attend Bryn Mawr, a small women’s college, on the other side of the country? Why was it the right fit for me?

  • Inspiring, motivating, empowering. Having a twin brother made me realize early on how women are treated and viewed differently because of their gender. My best experiences have been in all-women situations: an all-girls diversity tennis camp in 2011 and an all-girls coding camp in 2014. They both shaped my life in such large ways as I was inspired by mentors and fellow campers, learning to love activities I had little or no prior experience with. Seeing women around you leading and doing all the jobs that needs to be done teaches you that there is nothing you can’t do. It pushes you. Below, some classmates and I attended Google NYC to learn about engineering there. I can’t imagine sticking with computer science as a major at any other college because I wouldn’t have felt as supported or empowered.

Classmates from BMC and Haverford visited Google NYC

  • Role models and mentors. I’ve been fortunate to find close mentors in the tech industry who I talk to fairly often–one is even the daughter of a Bryn Mawr alumna! Anyways, I’ve also found mentors and role models within Bryn Mawr in my classes (yes, my professors, but also my classmates!), on teams, in clubs, and more. Honestly, I feel mentored by peers, and think that is so neat!
  • Confidence-boosting. Similar to #1, there’s something empowering about Bryn Mawr. You volunteer more in class. You ask more questions. My mom pointed it out to me over winter break after my first year at Bryn Mawr, and she’s been saying it ever since: I’m more confident. I’ve also seen it when I see my friends from high school, and they complain about being intimidated or not volunteering in class, something I do not experience at all! I can’t imagine a better place to be for me or anyone who wants to enter a typically-male-dominated field than a women’s college.

Believe it or not, I used to fear public-speaking and being on stage. No more!

  • Leadership-building. Combining #1 and #2, women’s colleges have been proven to produce more leaders. Selena Rezvani, author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School, points out this interesting statistic in “Are Women’s Colleges Still Needed?”:

What’s more, while women’s college graduates make up only a small minority of the college-educated population, one-third of the women board members of the Fortune 1000 companies are women’s college graduates, and women’s college graduates are twice as likely to earn Ph.D.s., more often going on to study the sciences and attend medical school. Of Business Week’s list of rising women stars in corporate America, 30 percent are women’s college graduates and of women members of Congress, 20 percent attended women’s colleges.

Susan Scrimshaw, former president of The Sage Colleges and a Barnard College alumna, adds onto that statement in “Yes to Women’s Colleges,” a 2006 article she wrote for The Boston Globe:

“Although only 2 percent of all women who attended a US college or university in the past 30 years were graduates of women’s colleges… they constitute…nearly 20 percent of the 2005 Fortune ’50 Most Powerful Women in Business.'”

May Day with KCass and friends.

  • DiverseWhen talking about women’s colleges, many say, “but it’s catty!” Many people also still think of Bryn Mawr as Bryn Mawr a few decades ago, including two of my favorite high school teachers. However, Bryn Mawr has taken many steps to making itself more accessible and diverse. I’ve met people of so many different backgrounds who have shaped who I am today. And for that, I am grateful.
  • Small class sizes. My smallest class at Bryn Mawr (or Haverford) has been five students, and other classes have been fewer than ten. There is no place to hide, which can be scary, but it can also be a wonderful experience. You will feel like you matter, and you will get to know your classmates and professor(s) on an intimate level.
  • Bi-Co, Tri-Co, and Penn. I love how accessible other colleges are. It makes Bryn Mawr feel bigger, and opens up so many more opportunities in terms of classes, clubs, events,

    I’ll never forget doing a Lion Dance in the Bi-Co Chinese New Year Celebration my first year.

    concerts, networking, and more. I attended Square College Code Camp this past summer in Atlanta (it’s usually in their San Francisco HQ), and met two Swarthmore alums on the first day. They were both expecting me, a Bryn Mawr student, and we instantly bonded. I still keep in touch with one, which relates to #8:

  • Alumnae networkI’ve met a few alumnae and am constantly in awe at them. Two winter breaks ago, I externed for One University Network, a startup co-founded by Susan Morrow ’90. I learned so much about startups, entrepreneurship, venture capital, and more, and hopefully some of her confidence and grit rubbed off on me. A year later, I met Grace McLane ’14 who worked at the San Francisco startup I interned at two summers ago. She was (and is) the best big sister someone could ask for! Both of these Bryn Mawr women are driven, persistent, confident, and kind. I still talk to them both, and love how proud they are of Bryn Mawr.
    • Traditions. One reason I chose Bryn Mawr over other women’s colleges was the traditions: I thought they seemed more fun here. And yes they are: they bring the whole school (and sometimes, Haverford and Swarthmore) together!

    Bryn Mawr hasn’t been easy. I’ve missed family, home, and big sports events that come with bigger universities. At the same time, so many opportunities have opened up because I attend a small women’s college, and I’m proud of what I’ve done and who I’ve become because of Bryn Mawr. It hasn’t been perfect, but neither have I, and I wouldn’t change a thing.