We're a bunch of unemployed bums with nothing better to do than to read, write and learn. So essentially, we're graduate students in every way except the only one that matters: we're not getting a fancy degree at the end of this.
I grew up in the Silicon Valley, attending one of the highest-achieving public high schools in the state. The year I graduated, my high school had six semi-finalists, two finalists and a 2nd-place winner in the prestigious national Intel Science Talent Search competition. I think there were students who had perfect GPAs (and were thus declared valedictorians by our school) when matriculation came around.
Despite the stellar academic credentials of my school, I graduated feeling quite frustrated with my high school educational experiences.
School often felt like an artificial game that we all begrudgingly played along with. I wasn't sure why we were learning what we were learning, nor how it could ever be useful in our lives. However, as the children of immigrants, my classmates and I weren't presented with any other option for social mobility outside of obtaining an education. And so we played along.
After graduating high school, I majored in statistics as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. In college, I had a very formative experience serving as a mentor to young students at a nearby elementary school where many of the students were from low-income families. The disparity between what these students’ opportunities were, and what mine had been pushed me to think more deeply about issues around inequality and education. I eventually decided I wanted to start my career in the field of US K-12 education after I graduated.
When I finished my studies in college, I worked at an education software startup in San Francisco, and later received a Fellowship from The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Fellowship to work in Chicago. In Chicago, I worked with large public school districts, building predictive models targeting at-risk students, as well as nonprofits that provided social services to individuals in homeless and low-income situations.
When my Fellowship ended, I had planned on attending graduate school in artificial intelligence. It was a field that I was interested in, and had gotten a scholarship to study at a great graduate school. But I ultimately realized that becoming an expert in artificial intelligence wasn’t aligned with my core interests, values and personal identity. After realizing this, I called the graduate school I was supposed to attend, and let them know that I wouldn’t be attending.
As a result, when my Fellowship in Chicago finished, I decided that if I wasn’t going to get another degree in artificial intelligence, I might as well create my own “degree” for the topics I wanted to study.
With the help of Aatash and Andrew, who were similarly interested in learning more about education, we came up with a list of books we wanted to read, topics we wanted to learn about and ideas we wanted to explore around the field of educating children.
We began to study.
Together, we formed this “Self-Guided Masters in Education.”
I graduated from Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, California, in 2010. Afterwards I went on to study at UC Berkeley, where I completed a computer science major while beginning an obsession with education. While filling in the gaps that my own high school experience left, things like how to manage my mind and body under stress, how to lead and influence others, and how to take creative projects from start to finish, I also began to participate in education technology initiatives. I helped develop and teach an introductory computer science course for humanities majors, and completed an internship at Khan Academy.
Since graduating, I've been working on a self-guided masters in education, to build a deeper understanding of the education system and what today’s students need.
I graduated from Gunn High School with supreme confidence. I was optimistic the future would work out, even saying in my Gunn baccalaureate speech, “There will be times… when your uncles at annual family reunions ask you those big questions that bring back nightmares of college apps, questions that make even adults secretly squirm inside – like ‘Andrew, what is your goal in life?’ But just remember – chasing what you love will lead you to the right place.”
Upon entering Harvard, I began to fear I was wrong. Friendless one summer in Chicago, I started seriously asking myself about what I “loved”; I realized I wouldn’t find quick answers. Over the next few years, I became obsessed with this question, torn between my “social justice friends” on one side and my “Silicon Valley techno-utopian friends” on the other, as well as my amazing peers, professors and internship employers passionately pursuing everything from global health to pure math. For six months after graduation, I surveyed issues within climate change, political process reform, mass media and AI, among other areas, to see what resonated.
My conclusion? I learned so much and felt so much purposefulness in this self-discovery process that I wish I had experienced it when I was younger. Through education, I'm going to help the high schoolers who I remember as “excellent sheep” begin their self-discovery.