In-Person Artificial Intelligence Workshop with Afiniti at Mattson Middle School

On Tuesday, February 1 2022, four Afiniti women hosted an in-person workshop IGNITE with fifteen 7th and 8th grade students from Mattson Middle School in Covington, Washington. The event started off with Teacher Mrs. Mareau (Mia) Roberts sharing an overview of the IGNITE Worldwide and leading a discussion about why IGNITE focuses on teaching girls and nonbinary students about STEM. The class exchanged ideas about traditional versus non-traditional jobs for women and talked about how important it is to increase the diversity in STEM. 

Mrs. Roberts also talked about the different benefits that make a STEM career great: not only do these positions pay well, but also companies are motivated to hire more women to increase diversity and creativity. There are hundreds of thousands of job openings out there and we need more women to fill these jobs!

The class then proceeded with a workshop facilitated by Lindsay Hua, VP of Global Deployment and Head of Diversity in Technology. She first introduced Afiniti, a software company that uses Artificial Intelligence to pair two human interactions together to reach the best possible business outcome. She then taught the concept of artificial intelligence as a way for machines to simulate human brain functions such as logical reasoning, learning and self-correction. She shared day-to-day examples of AI applications such as playing games against a computer, Apple’s Siri, or Google Assistant. 

Students chose from three different workshop activities. Teachable Machine involved training the computer to distinguish two different classes of images, sounds, or poses. Students aimed to beat the Afiniti-bot in Afiniti’s rock-paper-scissors activity. In Quickdraw, students helped train the computer to recognize doodles and drawings within seconds. 

Kelly Whiteside, VP of Client Services; Anna Carlson, Senior Director of Client Services; and Lynne Rochel, Director of Client Services, worked with student groups as they tried out all the activities. All the students were highly engaged as they trained the computer to recognize images through their sketches. A few students were able to beat the Afiniti-bot in rock-paper-scissors. Finally, they enjoyed training the teachable machine to distinguish between warm and cool colors, dogs versus cats, and human faces versus ceilings!

The next activity was a panel and Q&A session during which Lynne, Lindsay, and Kelly shared their personal stories and life lessons.

Lindsay Hua, VP Global Deployment and Head of Diversity in Technology, spoke about growing up in the Philippines, studying in a traditional all-girls school where she didn’t have any boys to compare herself with. She also talked about how she was excited to get her first computer in high school and that her first computer class was speed typing, which started her interest in STEM. She spoke about how she broke free from the belief that women were not fit to take computer science courses. She ended up taking a course called Management Engineering, which was a combination of math, engineering, and computer science, and followed her dream to pursue an IT career.

Kelly Whiteside, VP of Client Services, shared that she had always done well in English and social sciences, but never felt confident in her math skills, even though she was in AP classes and got good grades. When she got her SAT test results, she had high enough scores to go to whatever college she wanted and was surprised when she scored only one point higher in English than Math. Her math teacher told her, “See—you have the aptitude, you just need to have the attitude!” Her teacher was right. In her senior year of high school, Kelly found out her college funding was gone due to her parents’ divorce. It took a lot longer, but she worked full time while attending college, initially at University of Texas in Arlington. Later she worked for a company that offered her financial support to attend Southern Methodist University. Kelly worked her way up the career ladder and later finished her Master of Science in Organization Development from Pepperdine University. Her advice to the students is to take advantage of opportunities that come your way and “trust your gut” about what is best for you. 

Lynne Rochel, Director of Client Services, grew up on a farm as the youngest of five children, and got involved in DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) in high school to build her technical and management skills. She worked her way through attending community college managing restaurants and then transitioned to a customer service role within a call center led her to a long career on the technical/system side of call center management. She also has a community of women who have supported her for over 35 years and encouraged her to continue pursuing what she loves. Her advice to students is to find your community who will support and encourage you.

Students asked the panelists questions about what colleges they attended, and what their current positions are like.

Panelists advised students to not be afraid to fail and try things that are new or uncomfortable, and to find opportunities to incorporate STEM into their learning paths now and in the future. The jobs are out there and understaffed with lots of opportunity available for all, but especially women and women of color. 

The morning wrapped up with students receiving Afiniti water bottles.

Thank you so much to Lindsay Hua, Kelly Whiteside, Anna Carlson, and Lynne Rochel from Afiniti! You made the students’ first IGNITE experience an amazing one!

After attending this event:

92%

of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class

79%

of students know more about STEM career choices and the benefits of working in a STEM field

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities

71%

of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM

69%

of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

“I knew that not many women were in STEM but also knowing how many women of color are in STEM means a lot to me being a first-generation Latina. STEM has always been an interest I’ve had and now I can think about it as a career.” – 7th grade

“Today’s event made me feel better about pursuing a career in STEM. It also opened my eyes to new opportunities I didn’t know I had.” – 8th grade

“I feel more supported for my future. I also feel like there is a bigger chance to be part of a STEM job in the future. Thank you for inspiring me.” – 7th grade

“It showed real examples of women who have gone into technological fields, which showed how real people from all over accomplish things like that. Today was fun and helpful.” – 8th grade

“This event inspired me to do whatever I want to do later in my life. It made me want to get involved in this field and the careers and relationships that come with it. This inspired me so much!” – 8th grade

“Today’s event inspired me to learn more about STEM by showing me that women can work in the field of STEM. I am interested in having a career in STEM.” – 8th grade

“Although I still want to do something in psychology, I now have other ideas just in case life changes my course. This event made me more interested in STEM and jobs involving STEM. I really appreciate you sharing your stories with me, and if I choose to pursue STEM I hope we can work together!” – 8th grade

“This event inspired me that even at my lowest lows I can get better, and that I can be in STEM.” – 8th grade

“Today’s event helped me know more about what STEM careers there are and helped me know more about what those people do in those careers. I think the event was interesting and I feel more interested in STEM now.” – 7th grade

“I was interested in STEM but this made me want to join.” – 8th grade

“I learned about the benefits of STEM. I liked the activities and getting to learn about the speakers/volunteers. I had a good time.” – 8th grade

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