Jonathan Zhou is a grade 10 student at Western Canada High School and he is the Regional Director for AI4Youth Canada, a not-for-profit organization that aims to connect high school students to industry professionals in AI. The founders, Claire Du, and Gerry Lu, started the organization 2 years ago and since then have hosted two national conferences and introduced AI to thousands of young adults and teenagers.
Intro: Introduce yourself and tell us about your project
Hello! My name is Jonathan Zhou, I am a grade 10 student at Western Canada High School and a Regional Director for AI4Youth Canada, a not-for-profit organization that aims to connect high school students to industry professionals in AI. Our founders, Claire Du, and Gerry Lu, started the organization 2 years ago and since then we have hosted two national conferences and introduced AI to thousands of young adults and teenagers.
Question 1: The specifics about AI4Youth (*how you came up with this, who or what influenced you, and process for how you set up)
Question 1: Tell us about the process of organizing the AI4Youth annual conference (contacting experts, spreading awareness and preparing content)
Organizing the annual conference takes up to 2 months. This year, with the addition of two new members, we were able to spread the workload more evenly and dramatically reduce the amount of stress. Every member of the team is tasked with finding keynote speakers and sponsors. Additionally, one of our members would be in charge of finding the location, another for the website, and two more for finding sponsors and advertising the event. Contacting experts came from external and internal relationships and events. For example, our team was able to contact some of our speakers from summer camps and events that our members attended. Information about the event was spread mostly on the internet. We found from recent polls that most of our attendees hear about the conference either from social media or from parents on WeChat.
Question 2: How did you build traction for your initiative? How did you bring together your team, build credibility, and increase the impact of your efforts?
As all the other members are graduating this year, it is my goal to build a new team for the next few years. From my experience, finding the right people who are dedicated and have a passion for your organization helps tremendously in terms of building credibility and efficiency. It’s harder to “transform” someone who isn’t interested in AI than it is to find someone who is profoundly interested in your cause.
Question 3 : What platforms, applications and other strategies did you use to market your events, recruit volunteers, organize human resources, and communicate with the numerous individuals involved?
A number of our volunteers were actually people who were interested in attending the event and wanted to get involved without the hassle of dealing with registration and fees. Allowing volunteers to not only gain volunteering hours but to also attend our conference just seemed like the right thing to do. Additionally, a handful of our helpers were close friends and family who knew about the conference from social media outlets such as Instagram and WeChat. It’s surprising to see the amount of people who are willing to help out.
Question 4: What were the biggest challenges you have faced? What motivated you to keep going and what strategies allowed you to stay organized?
Motivation is a huge part of a not-for-profit organization. It’s easy to get caught in a bunch of doubts about costs, due dates, and even school. Although it isn’t as dramatic as it seems, having your fellow members and teammates encouraging you along the way really seems to help the most for me.
A major challenge that I faced was sacrificing the time to hang out with friends to work on a project that had a deadline. However, the joy and gratification that you receive afterwards and the hundreds of teens interested in your mission makes it worth it.
Question 5: Personally, what was the biggest lesson or takeaway you’ve learned along the way and how has that changed you as an individual?
Definitely to get help when you need it. A strong team can get through any challenge and is your greatest weapon.
Iron sharpens iron, and sometimes you need to let go and trust others to do their best.
Question 6: Where do you see yourself and your organization in 5 years?
I can see our organization expanding into all fields of AI and STEM research. I know for sure that we have a lot of room to grow and we are looking and discussing potential ways to expand our organization. One of which that I personally am advocating for is to introduce more robotics related conferences and events to connect even more people to the world of artificial intelligence and future technology.
Question 7: If you could change one thing to make the world a better place, what would that be?
Trying not to be too philosophical and existential, I would make information and technology available to all people.
I believe that with more people involved in technology and research, the faster humanity will grow and evolve into a stronger, society that doesn’t have to worry about conflicts anymore.
Question 8 :(fun): If you could time travel, what time period would you go and why?
I would love to go to the future and see all the cool new innovations and inventions. Perhaps humanity would be so advanced in the future that we can indulge in interplanetary travel. How awesome would it be to be able to fly around like Iron Man and experience low gravity on the moon? Maybe it’s the kid inside me but I really want to explore space and the endless potential that it holds.