How to help high schoolers prepare for the rise of artificial intelligence

Should artificial intelligence be allowed to make care decisions for patients? Though the future of AI may conjure up doomsday visions of robots and computers intent on rendering human existence superfluous, the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health (Jameel Clinic) addressed questions surrounding the use of AI in health through their inaugural summer program focused on educating high school students. 

The Jameel Clinic Summer Program, which took place July 10-21, accepted a total of 51 students from primarily Boston-area schools, with a commitment to reaching students from diverse backgrounds.  

The program, which split students up into two cohorts of 25 students for each week, had core offerings including courses like “Intro to Python,” “Intro to Clinical AI,” and “Intro to Drug Discovery” while also facilitating trips to various local institutions such as the Museum of Science Boston, Massachusetts General Hospital, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Amgen. 

“Organizing this boot camp had a personal significance to me. When my family immigrated to Israel, it was tough — my parents and I worked minimum wage jobs to survive,” School of Engineering Distinguished Professor and Jameel Clinic AI faculty lead Regina Barzilay recalls. “Going to university transformed my life. Many of the students in the program have similar backgrounds. I hope that exposing them to exciting science at MIT will open new opportunities for them.” 

“I’m not supposed to be here today,” stated Collin Stultz, the Nina T. and Robert H. Rubin Professor at MIT and Jameel Clinic principal investigator, on becoming both a computer scientist and cardiologist. In his lecture, Stultz spoke of the hardships his parents endured after immigrating to New York from Jamaica. He emphasized that he and his family members had never thought to apply to schools like Harvard University, thinking of it as a school for “people like the Kennedys” until Stultz got the idea to apply from a classmate who was planning to apply.  

“It is my hope that the interactions between students in the Jameel Clinic Summer Program and MIT faculty will highlight the wealth of opportunities available at the intersection of computer science and medicine,” Stultz says. 

As a result of a generous gift from Joseph Bates and Kristin Loeffler through their AI for Humanity Foundation, the Jameel Clinic was able to offer the summer program at no cost and reduce the financial barriers for students from under-resourced backgrounds. Bates shared that at the age of 13 he was discovered by a psychology professor at Johns Hopkins University and became the first teenager to enter the university. “I had been doing an adequate, but not good, job in a dangerous Baltimore City public junior high school,” Bates says. “Being at Hopkins was wonderful, socially and intellectually, and it led me to a computer science PhD at Cornell University, then CS professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Someone taking an interest really mattered, and it changed my life.” 

According to the National Science Foundation, the U.S. STEM workforce gradually diversified between 2011 and 2021, with increased representation of women and underrepresented students of color. But in the college-educated workforce, a 2021 report showed that just 16 percent of engineers were women and 16 percent of underrepresented students of color — Hispanic, Black, and American Indian or Indigenous Alaskan individuals — were employed in science and engineering occupations with at least a bachelor’s degree. 

Angely Mejia Martinez, a rising junior at Chelsea High School and aspiring doctor, highlighted Jameel Clinic chair and MIT Institute Professor Phillip Sharp’s talk as one of her favorites. Sharp spoke about growing up on a small farm in rural Kentucky before setting off on his career in science, which eventually led to his 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. “I really got inspired by that because when I was little, many people would say ‘I don’t think you can do this,’ and I was always like ‘I can do this,’” Martinez says. “I think I can achieve anything I set my mind into.” 

“It was very surreal because I didn’t think I’d be here,” Priyani Rawal, a rising junior studying information technology at Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School, says. Rawal’s favorite class was Barzilay’s Intro to AI/ML lecture. “I was so amazed by what we were learning … it made me inspired to go into [the machine learning] field.” 

Adam Nouri, a rising senior at Pioneer Charter School II, signed up for the program after receiving an email from his computer science teacher. Before applying, Nouri had considered enrolling in a summer course for programming at Bunker Hill Community College, an option typically offered at no cost to Pioneer students. However, Nouri quickly realized that free enrollment was only available during the school year and says it would have cost around $800 for him to enroll in the summer. If he hadn’t gotten into the Jameel Clinic Summer Program, Nouri believes he would have continued working at his part-time service job for the rest of the summer while trying to code a game or build a computer with his friends in his free time. “When I got into the [Jameel Clinic Summer Program], I was actually really excited,” Nouri recalls. “Now I feel like I have a clearer path I want to pursue.” 

As part of their final group project presentations given on the last day of the program, students were assigned AI tools used in clinical settings or drug discovery, like PathAI or AlphaFold2, and asked to explain their assigned tool along with its potential benefits and risks to a target audience of their choice. 

“There is a heavy emphasis placed not only on innovation in science, health care and technology, but also on collaboration across disciplines,” Jay Ananth, a rising junior at Troy High School, says. “During the summer program, I was taught AI and health care not as a high school student, but as a peer — a fellow researcher — who has the ability to innovate and make a change.” 

Serena Hu, a rising junior at Lincoln Sudbury High School, felt less uncertainty about her future after attending the program. “I always wanted to try new things so that I could find something that I love to do, but I can pretty confidently say that I found it here,” Hu says. “They’re not just teaching you the material — they’re also inspiring you.” 

The Jameel Clinic Summer Program was organized by Ignacio Fuentes, Alex Ouyang, and Marinalva Smith. Maggie Wang, Antonella Catanzaro, and Ciarra Brodie helped to oversee and contribute to the success of the program. Instructors included Pulkit Agrawal, Sharifa Alghowinem, Shrooq Alsenan, Manisha Bahl, Regina Barzilay, Rebecca Boiarsky, Felix Faltings, Florian Fintelmann, Marzyeh Ghassemi, Susan Hockfield, Insoo Hyun, Noah Jones, Ila Kumar, Peter Mikhael, Carles Monterrubio, Tiffany Pereira Portela, Phillip Sharp, Hannes Stärk, Vinith Suriyakumar, Oliver Thiel, Randi Williams, Jeremy Wohlwend, and Rachel Wu.

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