Social Impact Internships: Catherine Mei (’23)

Hi! I’m Catherine, and I’m a senior double majoring in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering (Course 6-2) and Brain and Cognitive Science (Course 9). I’m interested in seeing how software development and data visualization can be applied to different fields to create social impact. During IAP, I interned with Rhymes With Reason, an education tech startup focused on promoting vocabulary learning in underserved communities. I worked as a web development intern, and I helped build parts of the startup’s website during the internship.

From this opportunity, I’ve learned the reality of educational inequity throughout the United States. I was surprised to learn that by the age of 3, children with professional parents get vocabulary exposure that is two times larger than working class children. Additionally, since working class children comprise a majority of American kids, the continued educational gap creates a reality where more than 60% of students read below their level by 8th grade. The mission of Rhymes with Reason is to disrupt these cycles of educational inequalities in America using engaging and wide-spanning methods. In particular, the founders have realized that vocabulary words in widely-known music lyrics can be a promising angle to approach this problem. Rhymes with Reason founder, Austin Martin, believes that by using popular music, a bank of vocabulary known to people of all economic and racial backgrounds, their program provides an engaging and equitable solution to vocabulary access. By using social innovation and enterprise, Rhymes with Reason is attempting to combat inequities in the educational system and social injustice present in society today.

I’ve included some photos of the vocabulary exercises that I’ve built throughout the course of the internship: 

During my internship, I met many passionate and hardworking people. Through interacting with them, I’ve come to realize how difficult it is to found and manage a startup. Oftentimes, founders have to figure out all of the logistic and technical details of the organization, including finding investors, recruiting talent, publicizing the effort, and more. Most people I met have either personally experienced the impacts of social and educational inequality or were deeply rooted in communities where these issues are extremely prominent. As a result, I sensed a strong determination and passion for the work that was happening. I’ve been deeply inspired by the individuals I’ve met through this opportunity, and I hope the organization can gain even more traction in the future.

My internship experience with Rhymes with Reason has also been very valuable for me because I’ve been able to apply many of the technical skills I’ve learned in class to an impactful project. In particular, I’ve found that my web development experience (learned through classes like 6.1040 Software Studio and personal projects) has been extremely relevant to my day to day work. I’ve come to realize the power I have to create change with my STEM background, and I will be more aware of how I can apply my skills for social change in my future career.

Tags: Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships IAP 2023

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