Lallab Session #2 by Emma O’Hara

Similar to the Most Likely to Succeed screenings that Girls Innovate! hosted in August 2015, the Lallab session on Wednesday, December 30, 2015, forced me to consider my educational experience.

Lallab stands for “Learning About Learning, a Lab” and is a new initiative by Girls Innovate! Unlike the Most Likely to Succeed screenings, the Lallab sessions were small and focused and designed to engage community members and students with exploring the landscape of learning through the eyes and experiences of entrepreneurs in the field of learning; making visible the entrepreneurs’ processes to students; and engaging both the entrepreneurs and the students in a conversation. I enjoyed the session as it was small and focused, felt more real and relevant, and gave me a chance to meet other students – both high school and college, homeschooled and public-schooled, many of whom are from the other side of the Bay (Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA).

When I saw the movie, it revealed to me that a different sort of school can exist and that my eleven years of public schooling wasn’t necessarily the only way to prepare people for the future. (Ironically, after I came to this earth-shaking revelation, I had to take a hiatus from the Girls Innovate! Teen Committee to do college applications.) This Lallab meeting was the first time, since the screenings, that I had a chance to engage in a public conversation about our education system. Having completed first semester of senior year at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, CA, sent out college applications, and been accepted and committed to Colby College, I now have even more experience as a student to reflect on this question.

We sat in a room at the Redwood Shores Library – about 15 of us – engaged in a conversation with two young entrepreneurs (Daniel Huang of CoderCentral and Richard Lo of PreHack) who are trying to innovate in the area of learning and engaging students in and for the 21st century. They wanted to know our thoughts about school and our experiences with projects and learning that have worked for us.

In my mind I thought that I shouldn’t worry whether my school experience and the school system I’ve been part of all my life are in some way ‘faulty’ or incomplete. I felt that we should celebrate the fact that people learn differently and have different experiences with the system. We should honor their stories and find a way to make more room in the world for nurturing such diversity. The meeting did end up providing a small semblance of such a space.


In addition to Richard (a Stanford grad who has been out for 5 years) and Daniel (a UCLA sophomore), there were nine other students (college, high school and middle school), as well as an experienced Silicon Valley entrepreneur (Shariq Mansoor, CTO and founder of FusionOps). Initially when we sat around the table we sat with people we knew; Daniel immediately changed that. He knew the discussion would be better if each of us had someone new as a neighbor. 

In our self-introductions to the group, we were asked to share thoughts on one of three things: (a) why we believe innovation in the field of learning is needed; (b) why it’s important for young people to think about their learning process; and (c) how our education has/has not empowered us (personally).

As we went around the room it became obvious that many felt the education system was too focused on grades, memorization and standards. That it was “about the school; about the test” and instead of innovating new ways to teach, people “assume that the system works, so they grow it”. I had a different take. I shared that, over time, I have developed consciousness about my learning style and my learning environment and have found ways to make them work for me. (Perhaps because I came from more limited circumstances than many of my peers, I had no choice but to work with what I have.)

After the introductions, Daniel introduced himself and then had us pair-share about a project that recently interested us – that we had to stay up late at night to work on.

Not only was it interesting to hear what my partner, Nafisa, did for her animation project, but when Daniel reined us back in and brought the discussion back out to the group, I could see the value in our experiences. He would call on one of us and ask us to explain our project and he would follow up with very pointed and direct follow up questions to get the information that he sought. For example, he called upon Nafisa and once she initially stated her answer he wanted to know what it was that made her be willing to stay up all night to work on it, how she connected with her group mates, and if something could have happened to make the situation better or worse. He was actively learning from her experiences so he could turn around and try to better cultivate such passion in his students and interns.

Following lunch we switched gears for about an hour to meet Shariq Mansoor. Richard led the interview. Shariq shared deep and honest comments about his experiences as an entrepreneur, as an employer looking at job candidates, and as a father with eyes on the changing learning landscape (he talked about how the school system is a factory model that seeks to optimize for further production). As far as future employment and entrepreneurship go, Shariq stressed passion.  He said that although a prestigious degree may get you some nods, the only thing that will make people want to hire you, follow you and keep you is your passion for what it is you’re after that aligns with their interests.

Following the interview with Shariq, we continued the discussion with Daniel. Daniel asked us to reflect on specific experiences in our extracurriculars that really helped us improve. Students shared about: being forced up on stage, being benched from a sport after injury, and having to be more communicative with coaches/teachers. We discovered that some of our best learning experiences came from actual doing, not just from being told what to do.

We did not have enough time to dig deeper into many of these experiences, but Daniel and Richard encouraged us to email them our thoughts on the matter because they want to learn more about what type of situations and opportunities harbor the most growth.

I, for sure, am looking forward to another Lallab session. Perhaps no one has a real and quantifiable solution to our discontent with the “tedious” and repetitive school system, but we can start discovering for ourselves how we best learn, how others can be engaged, and how to deliver better learning experiences for more people. We do this by opening up the conversation and engaging in the conversation in a meaningful way with other people – even the girl you see everyday may have a nugget of truth about her experiences that can enlighten your own journey. It is not enough just to read a book or go see a documentary; we have to meet each other in new and brave ways that push forward the conversation about education.

Happy New Year!

Emma O’Hara


Acting on My Intentions During Winter Break by Arushi Agarwal

The part of the Student Leadership Challenge I am working on this year is Inspiring a Shared Vision, in particular Envisioning the Future and Enlisting Others. This break, I looked for clubs to join at my school, especially ones that have mock trials, a new-found interest of mine. I found none. I realized I thought the experience of holding mock trials at my school would be so interesting, I was willing to start a club for it. I envisioned talking to my Criminal and Civil Law teacher about having her as an adviser. “What’s next?” I asked myself. Finding samples of mock trials would certainly be helpful and maybe in the future so would a mock trial championship. Wanting to involve others, I asked a couple of my friends interested in law if they would want to help out. They had all enjoyed Criminal and Civil Law and I built upon that saying that participating in more mock trials would serve to further enhance their experience in the class. In this way, I was able to interact with my community (for now, my friends) to envision something new at my school and enlist the help of others. In the future, I hope to work with my peers to make this vision a reality.


Leadership Practice Commitments over Winter Break – by Cathy Zhang

Over the holiday break, I visited the panhandle of Florida, as well as New Orleans. My trip lasted 10 days, and it was pretty fun! When I returned from my trip, I took the time to catch up on work, but also take a moment to relax at home.

Fortunately, I was able to be around and connect with others, so I used this opportunity to practice my leadership challenges (“Connect with people on a personal basis” and “Err on the side of telling stories in a timely fashion”). For example, I reached out to one of my old friends from middle school and we set up a study session to meet and prepare for a competition. It was great getting to chat with her, as we go to different high schools now. Furthermore, because I had a lot of fun experiences from my trip, when I came back to school, I really took the opportunity to tell lots of stories to my friends. It was great being able to not only share my winter break experiences (fun fact: I caught 15 fish on a deep-sea fishing boat trip!), but also to listen to my friends and classmates share their experiences.

Lallab Sessions by Lydia Sun

On a crisp winter’s day in December, I found myself in the Redwood Shores Public Library, seated around a table with leaders and entrepreneurs. This set up concerned the Lallab – a space for learning about learning, entrepreneurship, and apprenticeship – and also GI’s next big project. I was actually gathered in that room twice that week, along with entrepreneurs Richard Lo and Daniel Huang, and depending on the day, other students my age (both from Girls Innovate! and from other schools in the Bay Area).

These sessions focused on discussing what worked and didn’t work for students under the current school system – and ultimately how students might learn about the way they, well, learn the best. Both Richard and Daniel had started programs designed to teach in a new way. For Richard, this was a post-college program called PreHack that taught grads the skills they needed to land their first jobs. Daniel was focused on tutoring high school students under his organization CoderCentral. Although they had different audiences, both entrepreneurs were interested in discovering more about how people learn.

Throughout the sessions, the groups were accompanied on different days by more experienced adults who had been working for years. These included Mukul Agarwal, Simon Ho, Chinam Kry, and Shariq Mansoor. It was fascinating to listen to their own anecdotes and experiences. Shariq offered some great insight on finding a job and working, and I found it reassuring to know that passion will get you farther than a fancy resume. Simon brought up an interesting point about education – he said that some people will want to talk about it, and some people won’t. He mentioned that he couldn’t be having this conversation with his own kids, and that got me thinking about what it would be like if I brought up education with my friends.

The sessions were quite a new experience for me, as I had never been in a meeting setting before. I remember being a bit surprised that Richard, Daniel, and his team members (Jerry, Brian, and Sidd) were so interested in hearing from the students (the TC members and the interns from Daniel’s tutoring center). I got a chance to share a bit about my own experiences in high school, and also about my extra curricular projects and activities. I was very eager to help them answer their questions, but I often had trouble articulating a thought. Hopefully, that will come in the future with practice.

The Lallab sessions gave me a chance to talk about something bigger than myself, and to meet other people who are just as interested in the topic, from all different ages and backgrounds. Now back in school after break, I’m thinking more about how I can make the most of my education, especially when I go to college in the fall of this year. I find myself noticing when teachers openly question our school or grading system. It’s becoming clear that perhaps more people are invested in education than is immediately obvious. And in order to start a dialogue, we need to include the community – parents, teachers, and students alike.

Lydia Sun

Student Leadership Challenge (Winter Break) by Audrey Xie

Did you have opportunities to be around others during this break?

My family hosted two potlucks over the winter break. So I had many opportunities to be around people.

Did you take any of those opportunities to practice your leadership challenge?

During the potluck for New Years I decided to test my leadership ability.

If you did, please describe the circumstances and how it went. If you did not, why do you think it was a missed opportunity, and what would help you to keep your intention in mind as you enter 2016?

During the New Years potluck my parents invited some of their classmates over to eat dinner. I had never met a single one of these people. It was the perfect opportunity to test my ability to lead. Some kids, whom I’ve never met before, were put under my charge. I had to lead them in all sorts of activities to keep them occupied. I think my attempts were pretty successful. Nobody cried or screamed!

Winter Break Leadership Check-in by Sherry Wang

During the school year, I frequently went to the YMCA to practice basketball. However, after basketball season started in school, I only went to the YMCA on weekends. After my team lost many games, I noticed that we needed extra practice time. To inspire a shared vision, I suggested that our team should find time over winter break to practice together. Many members of my team agreed that practicing together over winter break would improve our skill level and help our team bond.
As a result, our team created a group chat to discuss the winter break practice. I looked on the YMCA website to find out when there was open gym, and scheduled a time when my teammates could come. After we practiced for a few hours, it was clear that our team developed a higher skill level, and we were closer together, not just as teammates, but as friends. The experience of spending time together outside of school not because we had too, but because we wanted too, really helped us bond as a team. In conclusion, I was around many of my teammates for most of winter break and I took the opportunity to inspire a shared vision that connected our team and showed us that we are better together.

Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership Pt. 2: Actions by Anika Bagga

In my previous blog post, I stated the specific tasks I wanted to focus on for each commitment. My first commitment was to connect with people on a personal basis. Connecting with people on a personal basis makes connections more meaningful and trustworthy. For example, at one of the TC meetings, I found that one of the TC girls was involved in FBLA, a business club, that I was actively involved in as well. Now, every time we meet, we enjoy talking about the different projects and events we take-part in. Similarly, I hope to foster a personal connection with more people in my circles. I want to talk to people older than me and younger than me and work on finding common ground. I believe that connecting to people in the middle school and high school is easier, since there is bound to be something similar between clubs, activities, and school. I found that it was harder to connect with someone much younger or older. To overcome that, I put myself in their shoes and envisioned their values and priorities. This helped me lead a conversation that they were interested in, which also helped me connect with them easily.

My second commitment was to work on finding people’s stories and keep a journal to capture examples of exemplary performance. I think that a first step to being able to find peoples stories is to being a good observer, connecting with them on a personal basis, and asking the right questions. After hearing the person’s stories, I took down some notes in my orange notebook and wrote some follow up questions. Although I didn’t get very many opportunities to practice this skill, I did follow this process while watching a TED talk. I watched a ted talk on a girl living a zero waste life, in which she hand-made most of the products she used and the trash she created over three years could fit in a small mason jar! It was quite mind blowing, so I wrote down some notes and a few questions for her. I will continue working on my commitments by connecting personally with more people and reflecting on exemplary performance.

Thanksgiving Leadership Check-in by Sherry Wang

To inspire a shared vision, a group of my friends proposed an idea about purchasing decisions in our team. At JLS, students are separated into different teams, or groups of teachers that teach core classes. For example, in eighth grade, the three teams are Team Imagine, Team Einstein, and Team Kaleidoscope. While Team Kaleidoscope and Team Einstein used their funds to purchase t-shirts for the students, Team Imagine is using funds to invite guest speakers. Even though Team Imagine students approve of the idea of using funds for education, many of us would also like t-shirts, as it is our last year at JLS. During lunch, some of my friends who attended the newspaper club at our school decided to ask our math teacher if purchasing team t-shirts can be optional and students can pay for the t-shirts by themselves. Our math teacher told us that if the other team teachers agree at the next meeting, we can make this t-shirt idea a reality. If the t-shirt idea does not go through, we will attempt to petition enough votes to persuade the teachers.

Taking Action on my Two Commitments – by Cathy Zhang

I took the time during Thanksgiving break to reflect on my Practice (Encourage the Heart) and take action on my two commitments. Below are my two action items and the steps I took to complete them:

1. Connect with people on a personal basis. Stop by and visit them where they are.

Connecting with people on a personal basis is something I feel like I have been doing for a while now. One of the clubs I am very involved with, FBLA, emphasizes networking and connections. At conferences and socials, I meet so many intelligent and friendly peers. I always hope to stay in touch with them, so I record their phone number or add them on Facebook. Lately, I’ve really made an effort to connect with them again by chatting with them, whether our conversation be about FBLA or something else. In fact, lots of these connections have been very mutually helpful and beneficial. This has really shown me how important it is to have a network and connect with others on a personal and frequent basis!

2. Err on the side of telling stories in a timely fashion rather than saving them up for some special occasion.

My own family hosted a Thanksgiving party on Friday, for which we invited a few of my dad’s colleague’s families over as part of a yearly tradition. Although this was a special occasion, I felt that I effectively utilized this opportunity to tell stories and connect with my guests. During our meal, I shared about my experiences with clubs at school and some fun tidbits about my Black Friday experience the night before! I listened to a friend talk about her experience working at an auditing company, as well as another friend tell us about her college experience in the Midwest. I enjoyed both sharing my stories and listening to others’ stories, and I hope that I can work on telling stories in a timely fashion.

My Leadership Practice Over Thanksgiving – Audrey Xie

Over the Thanksgiving break I decided to apply two of my many leadership practices.

I decided on….

  • Repeat this phrase at every celebration: “We are in this together.”


  • Make saying “thank you” a natural part of your everyday behavior.

This Saturday, November 28, 2015, my team was figuring out our team cheer. We wanted something that would be super uplifting and make us excited for run-throughs. I recommended the phrase “We are all in this together”. First off it helped me combine some practices into life outside of the Teen Committee, and secondly it had some appeal because of its use in High School Musical. In the end, my team didn’t choose a cheer. We’re still thinking.

During my family’s Thanksgiving dinner I got to put my “thank you’s” into good use. Whenever food was offered to me I said a “thanks” then politely accepted or declined. You can say a “thank you” for almost every single occasion, therefore I will continue this even after the Thanksgiving break.