UC San Diego’s annual Founders Celebration was in mid-November, and–for the first time since I became a Triton–I learned about and attended the Founders Symposium on November 12, 2015 (yes, this post is very belated).
The evening began with a reception and a poster showcase featuring undergraduates and their innovative research. After partaking of the delicious hors d’ouerves and cider mocktails, I was able to talk to a couple of students about the programs they were involved in.
SISTERS (Sustaining Interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Research in Society) is a program led by Jacobs Global TIES that seeks to spark an interest in STEM fields for young girls in the Encinitas school district. I was particularly interested in this because I was never introduced to STEM careers during my childhood, and also never pursued them in university. With one 9-year old niece and two 3-year old nieces, I would love for all young girls (and boys) to be more aware of the limitless possibilities they have for their futures.
On a similar note, I also learned about ThoughtSTEM at a UCSD Women in Business Conference and it was equally uplifting to hear one of their very animated, lovable, and passionate co-founders Sarah Guthals speak about ways to get young girls interested in coding.
Another poster was from a group of environmental engineers that are working on a model for a water filtration system that they hope to implement in the San Diego River. Extremely practical, impactful work and they haven’t even graduated yet.
Before the program began, I overheard one of the speakers mingling with her friends in the audience behind me as she mentioned how nervous she was, and how nervous all of the speakers were… except for Paul, who was “cool as a cucumber.” I found it amusing, and not unlike many of the amazing Economists at UC San Diego.
When I first got the email about the event, I was motivated to go see these TED-style talks because I saw Paul Niehaus of our Economics Department would be speaking. I participated in a couple of EconLab experiments where I learned about the organization he co-founded: GiveDirectly. They have found that direct cash transfers to the poor are more meaningful ways to contribute to their well-being in that they are able to creatively pursue solutions to the problems that are significant to them. Instead of us telling the poor what is best for them (read: white man’s burden), we can provide them with the financial assistance to do what they think and hope will better their lives.
Another exceptional speaker was Craig Callender of the Department of Philosophy. His focus was on the rapid advance of technology and the accompanying ethical ramifications. For instance, in programming cars that are able to drive themselves: in the event of an unavoidable collision (a person or group of people in the car’s path),
- should the safety of the passengers be considered more important than that of nearby pedestrians?
- should the car steer clear of the pedestrians, at the risk of veering into a tree/pole and injuring its passengers?
- should the car steer away from hitting a group of people, if it means that only one pedestrian will be injured (the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few)?
Jennifer Burney discussed food insecurity and the struggles of farmers in developing countries whose livelihood is affected by climate change as well as basic economic systems. During much of the year, farmers struggle to ration their home-grown food supply and provide sustenance for their families. However, during the harvest season when they are finally able to sell their crops for income, prices for their goods are at the lowest of the year because of the competing supply of other local farmers.
During the Q&A, social media and its relationship with traditional media was brought up. It was a great reminder that raising children in this decade of rapidly advancing technology is a scary thing and we will definitely have many novel problems to solve.
A recurring theme was that the future of progress and innovation lies in collaboration between intelligent, motivated individuals (with or without a pool).
Although it left me with a tinge of regret about my unexplored potential, the day was definitely inspiring and thought-provoking.