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Interview with Karly Hou

Kian: Welcome to SciSection. My name is Kian and I'm bringing you this week’s Scientist of the Week segment. For this week, we have the honor of having Karly from Harvard University to tell us about her organization and their initiatives. Hi Karly, thanks for coming to our show.

Karly: Hey, thanks so much for having me here.

Kian: Awesome, so can you introduce yourself to our listeners?

Karly: Sure, so just a quick introduction I'm Karly. Like you mentioned, I'm currently a sophomore at Harvard studying CS (computer science), math, maybe with some economics and government, and I'm the founder of Wave Learning Festival, which is an organization that started up around April in order to combat the educational inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. As you know, the pandemic has affected people all around the world and especially...what we're hoping to address is all these students, who, after their schools closed down and their summer and community programs shut down, were left without resources that support, and their parents who have been trying to balance their full time jobs with also having to engage their kids. You know, all this is coming together in this one big problem, and so we're really hoping to try to alleviate those problems.

Kian: For sure, definitely, and during these times we all can really use some help from student organizations and we all can help each other to make the situation a bit better. So you already covered it a bit, but can you tell us about the inspiration behind creating Wave Learning Festival?

Karly: Sure, so, basically back in March, I think it was like mid-March when our colleges sent us all home; it was super abrupt. In one day we were still going to class. The next morning we wake up, and everyone's talking about how we gotta leave in like 5 days. So obviously it was a very hectic time, but we were fortunate because our school had the resources to set up Zoom classes and be able to transition the rest of the semester so that we could still continue learning. But a lot of schools weren't as fortunate and once I got home, I remember talking to my high school friends who had also been sent home from my old high school, Gunn High School, and they were talking about just the lack of support there was, and how confused they were because teachers didn't know how to adapt to this and the whole structure of classes just changed and I know that Gunn was trying their best, I mean, Pala Alto school district; they're a really good district and they were doing everything that they could. But the truth is that this was just a new problem that nobody had ever had to deal with before, and so I was just thinking, if my school district who has a lot of resources, was struggling this hard like I could just imagine how hard it must be for other schools across the country and around the world. So yeah, at the same time we are reading articles about how parents are struggling, I mean there were pieces that came out in the New York Times, other journals about just how hard it was for parents to try to do all these jobs at the same time. And you're also seeing program closures from summer camps and community programs that would have usually taken these children, given them resources, and taken them off their parent’s hands. And they were just closing and there were no replacements, no refunds or anything. So I thought, you know, what if we have college students come together and try to, you know, create these resources again for kids and teach things that they're really passionate about and we can teach subjects that aren’t taught in school, I mean, we all have our own interests and backgrounds and expertise. So that's really how it started: reached out to a couple of friends and within a few days we got it up and running.

Kian: That sounds really awesome. So I know you guys have started during COVID, but so far what kind of events have you planned and what kind of initiatives have you run?

Karly: Yeah, so back when we started, we definitely wanted to focus on these seminars. The idea was to create seminars on a wide variety of topics and keep class sizes somewhat small so we could have that element of interaction. They're all live and free, and the reason why we thought having live classes was super important was because, yeah, like, I've taken asynchronous classes before where I just watch recordings, and it was so hard to stay engaged because I just, you know, I could always come back to this later and then I just never got around to it. And there's also the element of when you're actually in class and you have your classmates there, you can have discussions, you can build off of people’s ideas, hear feedback in real time, and you’ll meet people, and I think that's something really awesome that's just hard to recreate with like YouTube videos or online courses and things like that. So we wanted to make that available to the kids and I remembered our first wave of classes, we started with just 11 and we thought it was so cool, like we actually made this happen, and then over the summer, I mean by the time we're closing this summer, we had 100 classes per wave and just to clarify, waves were like 2 week periods over which we tried out new classes. We also started hosting some sessions with speakers, because we thought this is a great opportunity to expose students to new career fields and hear from their role models and so we had some really awesome people, like we had Jameela Jamil come and do a talk. We had Rudas Iapetus who's a really cool author who came and did several workshops and those were all a success. We had Cliff come talk about writing resumes and help people with applying to internships so yeah, it was really great to have those sessions and going to the fall, we're also opening up office hours, which is basically like tutoring but in small groups around the subject; they're totally drop-in and the idea is that we want to help kids with the gaps in their in their school right now because there's a lot of parents who are concerned about online learning and the challenges that might present. And yeah, we're also hoping to open up a college series, especially to help low-income students and first generation students have access to all the information over how to get scholarships, how to get everything done on time. There's a lot in the works and we're really excited and it's constantly evolving as we go on with time.

Kian: That sounds really awesome; I'm sure a lot of students can use these resources, especially during these times, when it's challenging to be a student and do online work at the same time. That's really challenging.

Karly: Absolutely.

Kian: So, your organization Wave Learning Festival seems to be oriented for the situation we are in currently, COVID, so where do you see Wave Learning Festival leading after COVID, when that day comes?

Karly: Yeah, so first of all, I’m really hoping this situation ends soon; I think we're all looking forward to that. But I do think that Wave Learning Festival has work to do far into the future, even beyond when this pandemic is over, because at the core of the issues of what we're trying to address, is educational inequity and that's something that's long existed even before the pandemic, and will continue after this pandemic, is that a lot of students don't have access to these kinds of opportunities to find out about new fields that they're interested in, to take these classes with student leaders, and who don't have information about the college application process, who don't have help in trying to secure their first internships or like thinking about their career options in the future, who can't afford private tutors or private extracurriculars and so, I think this is something that we'll have to work on for a very, very long time, and so especially looking into the future, we've already started partnerships with a lot of organizations serving low-income youth and homeless youth, and yeah, we're really hoping to try to make an impact in that area.

Kian: That sounds really awesome. And how can students get involved within your organization?

Karly: Sure yeah, so first of all, thank you for asking; we're super excited for more people to be involved in the wave. So for middle and high schoolers, we welcome all of you to take our classes in the school year; they're pretty light, they're designed to work around your schedule, and really expose people to new topics through discussion-based and project-based classes, so you can find those at our website Also, for college students and high school upperclassmen, we invite you to join our team, whether if you'd like to be an organizer, if you'd like to teach your own class, if you'd like to tutor other students, you know, feel free to join us: we would love to have you. And for anyone else, if an organization is interested in partnering with us, they can send an email to us and that's listed on our website as well. Or if you'd like to make a donation to support us of course, we would also really appreciate that.

Kian: That sounds really awesome, and with regards to Wave Learning Festival right now, coming up with this organization, managing it, and also communicating with different organizations and also holding events for sure, is not something that is done easily, and so can you tell us about some of the challenges that you’ve faced so far along the way.

Karly: Yeah, I think...oh, there have been a lot of challenges, I mean, starting something is never easy and especially trying to grow this in a time where collaboration is difficult! But I think the reason we've been able to get through this is just because we truly have such an incredible team. Like truly, some of the most talented and hardworking and creative, amazing individuals that I've ever met that are all coming together. We are all super passionate about this mission and that's what holds us all together. But let me I guess some of the challenges in the beginning, first of all, was our course structure and programs, because we had this idea about how we wanted to...of what we wanted to offer, but we didn't know how to offer this, you know, there was a lot of considerations about how registration would work, what audiences would we target, how would we ensure that our services are safe and that we're protecting our users’ privacy, how will we ensure that the content is appropriate and fun and interesting for students, and then how are we going to get the word out there? Because we're just a couple of students who created this and how are we going to get the families who can actually take advantage of this to find out about it? And also you said, even organization, we're all students, we don't have any legal background, so how we gonna work that out? But I think every time one of these issues that has come up, we've been able to figure it out just by sitting down together, brainstorming ideas, contacting experts if we need another opinion to help us out, and just doing a lot of research and trying things out. And yeah, I think our team has just been able to respond to things very quickly and that's part of why we've been able to overcome these challenges.

Kian: That sounds really awesome, and for our final question, can you tell us about one of the most recent upcoming events that you guys have and what can the students expect from it?

Karly: Sure, yeah. So our seminars for this fall actually just opened up for registration. So we're super excited about that, we have topics from speech to mental health, to the mathematics of burritos and enchiladas, and contemporary Central African history among a whole host of other topics so that's obviously super exciting. We also have some conferences coming up, so we have a collaboration with Stemi and for the month of October, we're hosting STEM-tober: so every weekend we're going to have some panelists come together, some events to talk about, areas of engineering and math and life sciences, and things like that. Yeah, we also have an upcoming event with MetLife Ontario, which is yeah, that will be super exciting. We're also talking about how to make it impact in vulnerable communities with education and healthcare and medicine and things like that.

Kian: That sounds really awesome! Karly, thank you so much for taking the time to come to our show today. It was really awesome to talk to you.

Karly: Thank you so much for having me here. I really loved talking to you here.

Kian: Thank you so much! For those of you who are listening, learn more about Wave Learning Festival by going to to learn more about their events and upcoming seminars. Make sure to keep up with us on our social media at SciSection on Instagram and Facebook. See you all next week.


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