The Future Is Bright If More Teens Could Think About High School the Way Kavya Kopparapu Does

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma talks with the founder of the Girls Computing League about the promise of her generation

Kavya Kopparapu was 17 years old and a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, when she sat down with world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The two brilliant minds were paired off in an eight-hour relay of two-person dialogues called “The Long Conversation,” held at the Smithsonian’s Arts & Industries Building last December.

Before talking about the physics of vibrating cello strings, Kopparapu imparted one major lesson she learned in her artificial intelligence course, that’s applicable to a student of any age. “It’s one thing to go to school, learn something and just leave it at that,” she said. “But it’s another thing to enjoy it…and apply it in the real world.”

AI, Kopparapu admits, elicits a mixed-bag reaction of “This is either super exciting, or oh no, it’s going to be the end of us all.” But she’s harnessed it to develop a tool called GlioVision that helps glioblastoma patients by extracting valuable molecular and genetic information from their biopsy slides in seconds. The efficient and highly accurate tumor analysis could guide doctors toward personalized treatment plans to fight the aggressive brain cancer.

Each participant in “The Long Conversation” was asked to share one optimism for the future, and Kopparapu, who founded the Girls Computing League, a nonprofit working to foster girls’ interests in computer science and technology, said she’s hopeful about her generation and what they can do with strong mentorship. (Her own physics teacher was backstage.)

“As a high school student, we take a perspective of trying everything and being okay with failure, because we don’t have constraints like grant money or pressure to publish or anything like that. We are able to try things,” she said. “We haven’t been in the field long enough to know what doesn’t work. We look at problems as they can be solved in the future not as they are constrained by the technology right now.”

Mark your calendars for this year’s “Long Conversation,” which will bring an impressive group of scientists, musicians, inventors, tech CEOs and others together on December 7, 2018. Watch it on livestream here.

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