Social Impact Internships: Vivian Shao (’25)
My name is Vivian Shao, and I am a freshman originally from Pittsburgh, PA and am pursuing a major in Computer Science & Engineering (Course 6-3). For the winter of 2022, I was a Data Science intern for the for-benefit corporation, Learning Seeds, Inc., which serves the community of neurodiverse children and their educators by providing personalized training methods and developing educational technology.
The central social issue motivating my work at Learning Seeds is educational equity, with regards to the lack of training for educators of neurodiverse children. I have learned about how the lack of training to be this specific kind of educator also causes a very low retention rate among those who enter in such positions, as the absence of training leads to frustration and lack of progress. As a part of the organization, I addressed this issue as we aimed to provide concrete training resources for educators to teach social skills and change social habits for children starting from a young age, as well as provide ed-tech that supports teachers, rather than replacing them. Through the passionate founders of Learning Seeds, I have gained immense insight to the issue of essentially nonexistence of structured training resources for educators working with neurodiverse children, and I have learned much about the high prospects of preparing children from early childhood to gain the appropriate social skills that can be carried with them for the rest of their lives, which gives me great hope and inspiration for the future of early childhood education.
My work focused specifically on building a recommendation engine for the teachers that Learning Seeds currently serves, generating personalized training tips, advice, and examples for each teacher based on their feedback, using natural language processing (NLP) tools and previous programming experience. Throughout my project, I was able to observe large amounts of data, which came in the form of Learning Seeds’ existing training resources and teachers’ transcripts. In order to successfully execute the project, I first had to gain a strong grasp of the important elements of children’s teachable moments. The organization’s immense database of collected training resources generated from actual teacher-child interactions was impressive and motivated me to understand and become creative in how to analyze the data to produce meaningful results for other educators.
This opportunity with the PKG Center and Learning Seeds has given me the chance to engage in a project that allows me to use my skills to create meaningful social impact while furthering my professional and career development. The internship has led me to think creatively in analyzing data that comes in the form of speech transcripts and natural language, and has made me think and reflect beyond my technical work. Now, while coding or debugging, I am motivated by and think more about how my work has a positive impact on a larger community.