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Inventing the Future Through Mentoring: A Conversation with Saba Akhyani

Published by Alison Moore

Headshot of interviewee

This blog post was contributed by Sophia Han, a former Digital Fellow in the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab. 

In this interview, we find out what Technical Digital Fellow Saba Akhyani got up to last summer during her mentoring experience with SFU’s Invent the Future program and the non-profit AI4All. The program is Canada’s first and only summer enrichment program with the goal of  bringing AI expertise, community, and mentorship to young women in Grades 9 through 12. Akhyani is a sessional instructor teaching Web Design and Development within the School of Interactive Arts and Technology and has been a DHIL fellow since 2020.

What is AI for all and how were you involved?
I was part of a program called Invent the Future, which introduces AI concepts to women in high schools across Canada. We have mentors and instructors, people who do outreach, and coordinators. Most of the computer science students were project mentors for students who were given some instruction regarding AI concepts and projects to code. 

The program partners with the non-profit AI4All to deliver these classes. How were the classes organized?
We were divided into three groups depending on areas of focus. For example, I was in computer vision where we focus on how AI deals with videos and images. Another group focused on natural language processing or NLP, and another group focused on robotics. My job was to define projects and help create the code-along workshop using Google Colab. Google Colab is an environment that lets you code in python and you can run different parts of codes and scripts in it. Students were given instructions during tutorials to complete pre-written blocks of code so they could gain some hands-on experience. For example, since my group focused on image and video processing, we had students test and complete code to analyze the emotion the person in a picture was conveying.

What made you decide to participate in the program as a mentor?
I have been a computer science student for the past couple of years and the issue of girls and women in STEM was always a concern of mine. On top of that, I wanted to join the program ever since I first learned of it in 2018. 

When I was in high school in Iran, I had a male instructor for math and I remember an argument between this instructor and one of my classmates. He was saying that boys tend to do better in math or science and that girls should go into fields more design-focused or arts-related for their own good. I thought this was a sexist thing to say and that it showed a general way of thinking that I wanted to prove wrong. Generally speaking, it is true that there are more men in the STEM majors, but this is because a lot of women have been told things and get scared away from these majors – not because they don’t have the potential to succeed. 

 

Generally speaking, it is true that there are more men in the STEM majors, but this is because a lot of women have been told things and get scared away from these majors – not because they don’t have the potential to succeed. 

 

What did you learn from the experience of mentoring? 
I definitely learned a lot about teaching and how important it is to know about AI. I’d like to do an introductory workshop to teach some basic AI concepts to people who maybe know about AI but not specific concepts.

 

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