For over 40 years, the Mayor’s Summer season Youth Employment Program (MSYEP, or the Mayor’s Program) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been offering youngsters with their first work expertise, however 2022 introduced a brand new providing. Collaborating with MIT’s Private Robots analysis group (PRG) and Accountable AI for Social Empowerment and Training (RAISE) this summer season, MSYEP created a STEAM-focused studying web site on the Institute. Eleven college students joined this system to study coding and programming expertise by means of the lens of “Knowledge Activism.”
MSYEP’s partnership with MIT supplies a chance for Cambridge excessive schoolers to realize publicity to extra pathways for his or her future careers and schooling. The Mayor’s Program goals to respect college students’ time and present the worth of their work, so contributors are compensated with an hourly wage as they study workforce expertise at MSYEP worksites. Along side two ongoing analysis research at MIT, PRG and RAISE developed the six-week Knowledge Activism curriculum to equip college students with critical-thinking expertise so that they really feel ready to make the most of knowledge science to problem social injustice and empower their group.
Rohan Kundargi, Ok-12 Neighborhood Outreach Administrator for MIT Workplace of Authorities and Neighborhood Relations (OGCR), says, “I see this as a mannequin for a brand new kind of partnership between MIT and Cambridge MSYEP. Particularly, an MIT analysis venture that entails college students from Cambridge getting paid to study, analysis, and develop their very own expertise!”
Cambridge’s Workplace of Workforce Growth initially contacted MIT OGCR about internet hosting a possible MSYEP worksite that taught Cambridge teenagers code. When Kundargi reached out to MIT pK-12 collaborators, MIT PRG’s graduate analysis assistant Raechel Walker proposed the Knowledge Activism curriculum. Walker defines “knowledge activism” as using knowledge, computing, and artwork to research how energy operates on the planet, problem energy, and empathize with people who find themselves oppressed.
Walker says, “I wished college students to really feel empowered to include their very own experience, abilities, and pursuits into each exercise. To ensure that college students to totally embrace their educational talents, they have to stay comfy with bringing their full selves into knowledge activism.”
As Kundargi and Walker recruited college students for the Knowledge Activism studying web site, they wished to ensure the cohort of scholars — the vast majority of whom are people of shade — felt represented at MIT and felt that they had the company for his or her voice to be heard. “The pioneers on this subject are individuals who appear to be them,” Walker says, talking of well-known knowledge activists Timnit Gebru, Rediet Abebe, and Pleasure Buolamwini.
When this system started this summer season, a number of the college students weren’t conscious of the methods knowledge science and synthetic intelligence exacerbate systemic oppression in society, or a number of the instruments at the moment getting used to mitigate these societal harms. Consequently, Walker says, the scholars wished to study extra about discriminatory design in each side of life. They had been additionally focused on creating accountable machine studying algorithms and AI equity metrics.
A distinct facet of STEAM
The event and execution of the Knowledge Activism curriculum contributed to Walker’s and postdoc Xiaoxue Du’s respective analysis at PRG. Walker is learning AI schooling, particularly creating and instructing knowledge activism curricula for minoritized communities. Du’s analysis explores processes, assessments, and curriculum design that prepares educators to make use of, adapt, and combine AI literacy curricula. Moreover, her analysis targets leverage extra alternatives for college kids with various studying wants.
The Knowledge Activism curriculum makes use of a “libertatory computing” framework, a time period Walker coined in her place paper with Professor Cynthia Breazeal, director of MIT RAISE, dean for digital studying, and head of PRG, and Eman Sherif, a then-undergraduate researcher from College of California at San Diego, titled “Liberty Computing for African American College students.” This framework ensures that college students, particularly minoritized college students, purchase a sound racial id, important consciousness, collective obligation, liberation centered educational/achievement id, in addition to the activism expertise to make use of computing to remodel a multi-layered system of obstacles by which racism persists. Walker says, “We inspired college students to reveal competency in each pillar as a result of the entire pillars are interconnected and construct upon one another.”
Walker developed a collection of interactive coding and project-based actions that targeted on understanding systemic racism, using knowledge science to research systemic oppression, knowledge drawing, accountable machine studying, how racism might be embedded into AI, and totally different AI equity metrics.
This was the scholars’ first time studying create knowledge visualizations utilizing the programming language Python and the info evaluation software Pandas. In a single venture meant to look at how totally different methods of oppression can have an effect on totally different elements of scholars’ personal identities, college students created datasets with knowledge from their respective intersectional identities. One other exercise highlighted African American achievements, the place college students analyzed two datasets about African American scientists, activists, artists, students, and athletes. Utilizing the info visualizations, college students then created zines in regards to the African Individuals who impressed them.
RAISE employed Olivia Dias, Sophia Brady, Lina Henriquez, and Zeynep Yalcin by means of the MIT Undergraduate Analysis Alternative Program (UROP) and PRG employed freelancer Matt Taylor to work with Walker on creating the curriculum and designing interdisciplinary expertise initiatives. Walker and the 4 undergraduate researchers constructed an intersectional knowledge evaluation exercise about totally different examples of systemic oppression. PRG additionally employed three highschool college students to check actions and provide insights about making the curriculum participating for program contributors. All through this system, the Knowledge Activism crew taught college students in small teams, frequently requested college students enhance every exercise, and structured every lesson based mostly on the scholars’ pursuits. Walker says Dias, Brady, Henriquez, and Yalcin had been invaluable to cultivating a supportive classroom atmosphere and serving to college students full their initiatives.
Scholar Nina says, “It’s opened my eyes to a unique facet of STEM. I didn’t know what ‘knowledge’ meant earlier than this program, or how intersectionality can have an effect on AI and knowledge.” Earlier than MSYEP, Nina took Intro to Laptop Science and AP Laptop Science, however she has been coding since Ladies Who Code first sparked her curiosity in center college. “The group was very nice. I might discuss with different women. I noticed there must be extra ladies in STEM, particularly in coding.” Now she’s focused on making use of to schools with sturdy pc science packages so she will be able to pursue a coding-related profession.
From MSYEP to the mayor’s workplace
Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui visited the Knowledge Activism studying web site on Aug. 9, accompanied by Breazeal. A graduate of MSYEP herself, Siddiqui says, “Via hands-on studying by means of pc programming, Cambridge highschool college students have the distinctive alternative to see themselves as knowledge scientists. College students had been ready study methods to fight discrimination that happens by means of synthetic intelligence.” In an Instagram publish, Siddiqui additionally mentioned, “I had a blast visiting the scholars and studying about their initiatives.”
College students labored on an exercise that requested them to examine how knowledge science is likely to be used to help marginalized communities. They remodeled their solutions into block-printed T-shirt designs, carving footage of their hopes into rubber block stamps. Some college students targeted on the significance of information privateness, like Jacob T., who drew a birdcage to symbolize knowledge saved and locked away by third get together apps. He says, “I wish to open that cage and restore my knowledge to myself and see what might be performed with it.”
Many college students wished to see extra illustration in each the media they devour and throughout numerous skilled fields. Nina talked in regards to the significance of illustration in media and the way that would contribute to better illustration within the tech trade, whereas Kiki talked about encouraging extra ladies to pursue STEM fields. Jesmin mentioned, “I wished to point out that knowledge science is accessible to everybody, irrespective of their origin or language you communicate. I wrote ‘hi there’ in Bangla, Arabic, and English, as a result of I communicate all three languages and so they all resonate with me.”
“General, I hope the scholars proceed to make use of their knowledge activism expertise to re-envision a society that helps marginalized teams,” says Walker. “Furthermore, I hope they’re empowered to develop into knowledge scientists and perceive how their race generally is a constructive a part of their id.”