By Julia Cheunkarndee
This summer, junior Austin Ho was selected by former Superintendent Max McGee to participate in the Singapore International Science Challenge (SISC) as a PAUSD representative. The program is an international event that is hosted every other year by the National Junior College of Singapore.
The program brings the top STEM students from around the world for a week of collaboration and competition in different disciplines of science. “The theme for SISC in 2017 was ‘Connecting Minds, Discovering New Frontiers,’” Ho said. “It signifies the importance of collaboration to promote new discoveries, which calls for the creative use of technology.”
Ho was first drawn to SISC by its machine learning challenge, along with its machine learning seminar and workshops. During the challenge, Ho completed an optimization for the Random Forest Algorithm, and his team’s algorithm won the Best Efficiency Award in the challenge.
Teamwork played a major factor in Ho’s experience at SISC. Students from many different countries collaborated together on projects and competed against each other in various challenges. Language barriers were naturally an issue. “My team was comprised of six students from different countries, and there were times when we struggled to convey our ideas to other team members because we spoke different languages,” Ho said. “We resorted to using Google Translate to communicate with one another. It was actually pretty effective, and we worked hard to make sure everyone’s ideas were heard and incorporated into the final design of our project.”
A typical day at SISC would begin with a lecture or workshop hosted by speakers from various STEM institutions, followed by challenge projects. While working with his team on projects, Ho and the other members divided themselves into groups in order to work more efficiently. While one group focused on writing the research paper and explaining the details of the team’s design, Ho lead the group of coders. “I came up with an algorithm called ‘The Lumberjack’ and worked with another member of the team to write up the program for the optimization of the Random Forest Algorithm,” he said.
Ho also attended machine learning workshops at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), where he learned about neural networks and how to apply knowledge of those networks to coding. “Based on my performance in the workshop, I also received an internship opportunity from a professor at SUTD, to participate in their machine-learning research at the Computer Science Department this coming summer,” Ho said. “I’m super hyped about that.”
Ho developed strong bonds with his team throughout the program, while deepening his own knowledge of science. “Through this incredible learning journey, I made connections with like-minded students from around the world who shared a common passion for science technology,” he said. “I also gained a better insight into the many possible applications of machine learning that would help improve our lives.”