Engineers who mentor families: Exploring Artificial Intelligence in Coimbatore, India

It’s National Engineers Week! National Engineers Week is an opportunity to celebrate engineers and their work. In particular, we like to focus on celebrating the amazing engineers who mentor students and families and share their passion and expertise with learners around the world.

Meet Vigneshwer, a data scientist in Coimbatore, India. Vigneshwer volunteered as a mentor for the AI Family Challenge this year, where he worked with local students and their families and taught them about artificial intelligence. Inspired to help people move beyond seeing AI as a “black box they’re not really familiar with” to understanding the ways AI is a tool they can use to make their lives better, Vigneshwar guided families through hands-on projects and lessons about AI concepts and tools, and hoped that they would also tap into their curiosity to keep learning beyond the program.

“You need to learn continuously…that’s the most important thing as a human that you need to do.”

In volunteering as a mentor, Vigneshwer hoped families would walk away understanding three things: that AI is for everyone –”these technologies are built for people, to make their lives easier and to make their life better”; that learning from each other is key to developing innovative solutions; and finally, that the world belongs to everyone, and that every child and family can make the world a better place for themselves and their communities through their creativity and innovation.

Why Vigneshwar mentors

We asked Vigneshwar about what drew him to the program, and beyond the immediate appeal of being able to share his expertise in AI with new audiences, he pointed out that he stood to benefit by connecting with people and understanding their perspectives on the technology and tools he helps build professionally. “Sharing knowledge, that’s where you learn, [where] you would get a lot of perspective. So when I’m part of these programs, I get the kind of insights [which are] super valuable to me, that I would not get sitting in my office in front of my computer.”

And working with families reminded him that there are lessons to learn about AI and technology from everyone, not just those already working in the field. Those sorts of considerations are especially important in a field like AI, which is changing fast and being adopted so quickly. “Any tool that will be used by millions of people around the globe, you need to consider different perspectives…You have to consider people’s different views to build good tools.”

Plus, in tackling the challenge of leading this program, Vigneshwer developed new skills of his own, including how to put together a team to lead a family learning program, how to find a location partner (which he did in KGISL) and how to support and empower volunteers.

Hopes for the future

Looking ahead, Vigneshwer hopes that the kids who participated in the program will be able to share their ideas with their teachers and their peers and in turn inspire other kids to participate and explore their own ideas for community solutions. He also hopes that parents continue to talk to each other and continue to build the community of learning they all started building together.

As we wrap up the first season of the AI Family Challenge and prepare for the next, we can’t wait to hear how Vigneshwer and the AIFC community in Coimbatore continue to explore ways they can use AI to solve problems they care about most.

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