Student Co-Directors Center Reflections|Projections 2021 Around 'Tech for Good'

10/14/2021 9:31:35 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Jasneet Thukral and Shagun Varma both approached their co-director position of this year’s Reflections|Projections event focused on turning personal motivation into a powerful theme. Their efforts went into creating an event based on the unique power technology can have on good.

Student co-directors of Reflections|Projections 2021, Jasneet Thukral (left) and Shagun Varma
Student co-directors of Reflections|Projections, Jasneet Thukral (left) and Shagun Varma.

Modern discussions in computing can become mired in negative impacts. But the students – inspired by their own activities and motivated by their own exposure to the tech world at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign – wanted to adjust the conversation.

It was a tall task to gear the entire conference around this singular theme. The total registered attendance surpassed 1,200 students from several areas of the university. And there were 15 speakers from industry and academia.

A tremendous amount of effort went into securing this presence, organizing the events and handling the logistics.

There was a staff of 40-50 students and friends that helped execute everything, but each director utilized their personal inspiration to make sure it all tied into the theme of “Tech for Good.”

“I’ve been taking philosophy courses since my freshman year, and even in high school I knew I wanted to get into CS specifically to do something that would have a major societal impact,” said Varma, a junior in the CS + Philosophy program. “I was a part of the Girls Who Code program, and by the time I was 17 had developed an app. We called it EsteemBeam, and it aided in mental health. It also won a congressional app challenge.

“I know other students are also interested in using computing for good in society, but the problem is they don’t know how to get involved or make a career path out of this interest.”

Thukral’s also explained that his motivation dates to a time prior to college; in fact, his interest draws upon his experience in elementary education.

“Growing up, I had a vision condition that made it difficult to read, and I remember how challenging it was to be the kid who spent several hours reading an article or book,” said Thukral, a senior in Statistics & Computer Science. “Now, I’m a very visual learner, and I’ve figured out a lot of ways in which I can help myself in education. I’m proud of the way we carried out Reflections|Projections this year, because certain speakers – like Tyler Menezes – covered ways in which computing can make education much more accessible for others like me.”

Symposium rooms in the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science welcomed student participants to Reflections|Projections 2021. The event was conducted in a hybrid manner, with an online option also available to attendees.
Symposium rooms in the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science welcomed student participants to Reflections|Projections 2021. The event was conducted in a hybrid manner, with an online option also available to attendees.

Following a year in which many educational events carried on remotely, this hybrid event showed a progression toward in-person connectivity again.

A few symposium rooms in the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science again filled up with attendees.

Those that were there joyously and audibly celebrated some of the ideas shared in these rooms.

It was clear that not only did this year’s Reflections|Projections connect people to each other again, but it did so over a common purpose that all who participated found motivating.

“Reflections|Projections started a discussion that we can all do a lot more with our knowledge,” Varma said. “I loved seeing representatives from non-profits interacting with our students to think about what more we can do in our field together. I liked seeing our students talk about ways in which we can use our skills to give back and help marginalized groups. I’m proud of those discussions we had.”

All the work that went in to produce this opportunity was worth it.

Considering this was one of the biggest responsibility he’s had in terms of student leadership, Thukral said he learned as much about himself as he did the others he worked with.

“Not only did I learn a lot about other people and how they operate, but, in hindsight, I reflected a lot upon myself to better understand how I work with others,” he explained. “We wondered, how can we work through a virtual and in-person environment to keep everyone happy? How can we bond together as a team? It all came down to finding people with a common purpose. So many of us found motivation in what this event meant to us on a personal and educational level.”