Speaking the Language of the Future
NCWIT AIC Alumni: Where Are They Now?
Wei Low, 2012 National Runner-up, Virginia/DC Affiliate Award recipient and 2013 Virginia/DC Affiliate Award recipient
Wei Low didn’t start out wanting to pursue STEM as a career or as a hobby, for that matter...
“When I was in high school, I never knew that I was interested in engineering, it just wasn’t something I ever thought about, but when my robotics coach reached out to me, she really emphasized to me that eventually everyone’s going to be involved in STEM in one way or another, you just can’t avoid it. Those that can program and code will already have a leg up on solving all the problems we encounter in the world and will be able to speak the language of the future,” said Wei.
Now a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Wei applied for MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) which cultivates and supports research partnerships between MIT undergraduates and faculty. Students get the chance to work on cutting edge research projects, and Wei made a beeline to work on the Zero Robotics program, using her firsthand knowledge of the competition to prepare a new generation of students for careers in STEM.
In high school, Wei had been part of the Gar-Field High School Robotics team that went all the way to the Zero Robotics World Championships at MIT. Zero Robotics is an international computer programming competition sponsored by NASA and MIT in which young competitors (high school students) write computer programs and craft software that controls and operates robotic satellites aboard the International Space Station. The software controls satellite speed, rotation, direction of travel and the students must program their satellites to complete game objectives (navigate obstacles like space debris or asteroids, pick up virtual objects) while conserving resources (fuel, power charge) and staying within specified time and code-size limits.
“The ultimate goal is for kids to learn how to code and second is the opportunity to see how different things in space are versus in a simulation,” said Wei. “Each challenge is pretty complex and opens students' eyes to new possibilities, inspires their creativity and curiosity, and gives them new perspectives on the world and their futures,” Wei added.
Currently, she is involved in working out bugs in the coding as well as updating the game manual. “I’m also helping collect data on how high schoolers learn programming, and how different aspects of the competition encourage them to want to learn. The best thing is to witness a beginner team first focus on simply trying to play the game, then evolve more towards developing strategy and making much more fluid moves and winning and then finally getting to the point where the code they are writing is so much more robust than when they started,” says Wei.
She offered a bit of advice to high school girls: “While you are in high school, you should definitely take part in any STEM-related opportunities that are going on in your area and find other women in the field...Without the encouragement of my robotics coach, I would never have gone through engineering or...applying to the Aspirations Award or gone through so many of the other things I did….You have this great community that is just so supportive even when you don’t know what you’re doing. Sometimes they make you laugh, sometimes they make you think, and a lot of times there’s just very valuable information that is shared through the community that I would have never been able to get anywhere else.”
Wei is interested in studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and possibly minoring in Mechanical Engineering. Wei Low is actively pursuing those opportunities that engage her passions and challenge her to grow, learn, and utilize her skills and experience. The Aspirations Award has prepared her to “speak the language of the future” and impassioned her to help other high school girls to learn to do the same.