Young Climate Activist Inspires High School Girls to Pursue Data Science
Young Climate Activist Inspires High School Girls to Pursue Data Science
Dilara Isik, a WiDS Next Gen coordinator, chapter lead for Princeton’s AI4ALL, and a Yale Young Global Scholar, takes every opportunity to inspire high school girls to study data science and to broaden their knowledge and skills about sustainability and data science.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Istanbul, Turkey, and my family moved around the Eurasian region a lot. Growing up, I lived in different cities in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Russia and Bulgaria, experiencing the multi-faceted and multicultural aspects of this region.
Currently, I am a rising senior in Kultur 2000 High School in Turkey. I have also been participating in ISAKx by UWC Japan where I completed the Climate Change & Biodiversity and the Science, Progress & Society programs. I attended online lectures every week for a year with students from all around the world focused on UWC’s mission to make education a force to unite people, nations, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.
My interest in sustainability started before participating in ISAK by UWC Japan. I have been a climate activist since the Fridays for Future (FFF) movement started in Turkey. During quarantine, I also participated in the “Innovative Solutions in the New Normal” Hackathon held by the UN partner Habitat Foundation. We designed a climate action and environmental awareness integrated educational plan for kindergarten students and my team’s project became a finalist and got sponsored by Coca-Cola for implementation.
My interest in technology was sparked by the Technology Entrepreneurship Program at Google Digital Academy. I was inspired by new ideas and the impact I can make with technology globally, so I’ve been taking more rigorous STEM classes such as higher-level physics, and participating in every programming or technology project I could find for creating social impact.
How did you get interested in data science?
Last summer, I got accepted to Princeton’s AI4ALL program with a full scholarship. I am really grateful for this experience as it introduced me to artificial intelligence (AI) and its social impact as well as to my amazing mentor Professor Jaime Fernández Fisac and my role model Professor Olga Russakovsky. I realized that, for successful machine learning models, data was the key and got very interested in data science. And to explore the applications of AI better, I took online ed courses such as Neural Networks and Deep Learning from deeplearning.ai at Coursera.
Understanding that coding is the primary tool to analyze big data effectively, I participated in Stanford’s Code in Place program to improve my programming skills. This experience really opened my eyes to what I can do by extracting information from data through coding. For example, in my final project for Code in Place, I modeled global warming by visualizing climate change data over the years.
Later, I joined the Cybersecurity program by Girls Who Code and learned more about how to secure people’s personal data on computers and networks, and how to manage big data ethically and safely.
What are you currently working on?
Many things! I just finished the Solving Global Challenges program as part of Yale Young Global Scholars, focusing on innovative and cross-disciplinary approaches to solving the 17 key challenges identified as UN Sustainable Development Goals. I loved meeting passionate high schoolers like me from all around the world and working on meaningful projects with them. My group focused on students’ mental health and education-related problems in the post-pandemic era.
I also just wrapped up a Project Management Professional Course certificated by Google, which I took to develop my leadership skills and understanding of schedule, budget, and scope management, especially in highly technical projects and teams.
Now, I am starting to study the materials “The Stanford Program for Inspiring the Next Generation of Women in Physics” to advance my knowledge in various physics fields such as quantum physics, quantum computing, astrophysics, and cosmology to explore diverse areas of physics research I could delve into during my undergraduate degree.
Last but not least, I became one of the Chapter Leads of AI4ALL and am regularly organizing events to create a high school community interested in AI. This has been a very fulfilling experience for me. And with regular consultation from an industry mentor, I will also be working on an AI Portfolio Project as a member of AI4ALL Changemaker in AI community, throughout this summer.
How did you first discover WiDS?
I am always seeking opportunities to develop myself and share my knowledge and skills with other people around me. For example, before WiDS, I had participated in Technovation Girls, a program that equips young women to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders. My team became the semi-finalist in the global Technovation competition by coding a mobile app that addresses special learning difficulties in early literacy education in collaboration with the Turkish Dyslexia Foundation where I had already been volunteering. With the same project, I received the Collaboration Award from and did many outreach projects with the Global Social Leaders Movement. Later, I became a mentor for middle school girl teams in my region participating in the Technovation Challenge.
I came across WiDS while searching for such programs when my sister, who is a Stanford undergraduate, recommended Stanford’s programs. Due to my passion for inspiring young women to explore STEM fields, I immediately got interested in the initiative and applied to be an WiDS Next Gen Coordinator.
How has WiDS made an impact on your life and/or work?
Conducting many outreach programs, especially during lockdowns taught me to think out of the box and find creative ways to reach out and attract young students to educational opportunities. With the first conference I organized for WiDS, I also got more confident in my communication skills in front of big audiences.
Thanks to people who reached out to me as a mentor or as a team member to organize more outreach events, I am a lot more comfortable with directing and mentoring people to find and create educational opportunities for themselves. Girls are less likely to be enrolled in STEM classes in general. I have started setting out to change that through WiDS Next Gen that aims to give girls the confidence to explore data science-related fields and inspiring them to become the next generation of leaders and change agents.
The best impact of WiDS, though, has definitely been the people. Today, we still have a lot of work to do to eliminate ethnic discrimination. I believe that WiDS is a very suitable platform for diversity and inclusion, and I am very happy to be a member of a community that is working tirelessly in this direction. I met many inspiring women leaders from diverse backgrounds who I am sure will keep inspiring me with their passion and ambition for what they do in the future.
What comes next for you? And what are your hopes for women in data science in the future?
University! I am studying for my finals and preparing for my university applications as a senior now. I am very excited about what life will bring to me. I hope to continue my undergraduate studies in a field that is at the intersection of sustainability, data science, and programming and work for green-tech companies building alternative solutions to help fight climate change.
I hope that more young women in my region have the tools and education to get interested and opportunities to pursue data science-related careers further like me. To do so, I will keep coordinating outreach programs integrating WiDS Next Gen resources and sharing my experiences during Technovation Girls, AI4ALL, and Girls Who Code programs, and hopefully in many other communities.