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People of SU / Science, Technology and Health
Written by Lincoln Vander Veen
May 7, 2021
It started with a simple realization for Nazira Davroni.
“The college application process is very difficult, especially for young people who have no knowledge of it and no mentors to help guide them,” she says.
And so began a journey for the high school senior in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
When Nazira found out about the AI4ALL course at Seattle University going virtual last year, it piqued her interest. She knew she could get a peek at Seattle and explore the world of artificial intelligence without leaving Uzbekistan. AI4ALL is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence research, development and public policy. Each AI4ALL chapter – like the one at Seattle U – is centered around a two-week course that teaches how to use AI to solve problems. Each student is immersed in AI surrounded by mentors and practitioners of AI.
As Nazira reasoned, “Maybe I should pursue something I know absolutely nothing about, maybe this is an opportunity I can’t pass up.” Plus, her realization about the difficulties of applying for college was still top of mind.
So, she took a chance and enrolled. And then she learned. And then she was inspired. That spark led to a creative collaboration with Caelin Foley, who was part of Davroni’s AI4ALL cohort. Together they had in mind a concept for an app based on Nazira’s realization about the difficulties of applying for college. It was an idea that turned into an actual product and before long, First2College was born.
First2College is a college preparation app designed by and for first-generation low-income (FGLI) students. Often due to a simple gap in knowledge and preparation, many low-income students pass up the opportunity to attend an institution of higher education that fits their aspirations and skills. Those students, then, unnecessarily miss the opportunities that come with a higher education and an advanced degree: an increased level of knowledge, access to professional mentors and networks, exposure to otherwise unattainable career pathways, and so much more. First2College is a product designed to demystify the process and encourage FGLI students to pursue a higher education.
In other words, the AI4ALL experience at Seattle U – specifically designed to expand the influence of artificial intelligence to students not typically exposed or interested in the subject – helped create a product that will further expand educational opportunities for FGLI students typically lacking knowledge about pursuing a higher education.
When Nathan Colaner, a senior instructor in Albers, first heard about First2College and the impact AI4ALL had onNazira and Caelin, he was ecstatic but not surprised.
“Our conviction is that exposing the students to certain concepts, language and methods will give them the confidence to say, ‘Oh, that’s what AI is? I can see myself in AI! Why not me?’” says Colaner, who is also managing director of the Initiative in Ethics and Transformative Technologies (IETT) and a driving force behind Seattle U's AI4ALL chapter. “Nazira’s example is perfect. We did not cover anything related to apps, but she was inspired by what she was exposed to, took it in her own direction and created something beautiful.”
Like all entrepreneurs, Nazira and Kaelin are raising money, a little more than $2,300 of the $10,000 goal to date, with contributions from Colaner and IETT.
“AI4All is specifically targeted for helping to nurture underrepresented demographics in STEM fields, so there is a deep connection and support for Nazira and First2College,” explains Colaner. “Nazira’s request (for seed funding) was the first of its kind. The IETT was an original supporter of AI4All at Seattle U, donating the equivalent of about 20 scholarships, so we felt First2College was a chance to offer support on ‘the other side.’”
And as they nurture and grow First2College,Nazira and Caelin are about to go to college themselves at Barnard College and Bryn Mawr, respectively. While at Barnard, Nazira will be studying human rights and anthropology and pursue her burgeoning interests in entrepreneurship. Her dream is to become a diplomat. She does plan to visit Seattle as soon as she can and hopes to reconnect with the educators who helped inspire her idea.
Learn how you can support First2College and its fundraising campaign.
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