When she was 8, Genevieve Chin was inspired by a book about extraordinary uses for ordinary things. She set out to test the concept by going around her house looking for problems to solve using household items, such as putting tea bags in her father’s shoes to remove odors or polishing her mother’s jewelry with toothpaste.
Now a third-year computer science student at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, Chin still enjoys tinkering with things. Since last November, she has served as a lead technician at the Makerspace on the Hill, where she is able to combine her love of problem solving with her desire to make engineering and technical skills more accessible.
Located in the residential building Olympic Hall, the Makerspace is a creative community where students are encouraged to explore hands-on projects. Chin teaches students how to operate machines, arranges workshops and demonstrations, as well as manages the Makerspace’s social media accounts to promote awareness and interest.
“Working at the Makerspace on the Hill is undoubtedly responsible for most of my growth at UCLA,” Chin said. “I love the opportunity I’ve been given to interact with so many students of different majors and backgrounds and make tools like 3D printers, woodworking tools and sewing machines accessible to students who may not have had access to them prior to UCLA or study outside of the school of engineering.”
Some of Chin’s favorite classes have been part of the Engineering 96 series overseen by bioengineering professor and vice chair of undergraduate studies Jacob Schmidt. A collection of student-taught, hands-on classes, the series allows students to devote an entire quarter to a specialized project, such as learning how to construct a rocket or using chemical engineering to design coffee. Chin, who took three of these classes, signed up to be a student instructor for ENGR 96: Python and Machine Learning after enjoying the course so much as a student. She will be teaching her first class alongside other student instructors in the fall and spring quarters.
Chin attributes her can-do attitude and passion for creative pursuits to her mother and grandmother, who taught her practical and creative skills.
“Afterschool, my grandmother would teach me all sorts of things like how to make clothes with sewing machines and harvest fruits and vegetables in her backyard,” Chin said of experience growing up in Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles with a large Asian American community. “I admired her as someone who held many odd jobs, including as an artist, and she even built a lot of her own furniture. My mother, an elementary school teacher, was also always using me as a tester for the many arts and crafts projects she would do with her students.”
Chin flourished in this creative environment. Toward the end of primary school, she was already a committed sculptor. But as she began middle school, Chin started to develop stronger interests in math and science, with an eye toward becoming an engineer because it seems to combine her interest in creative problem solving with technical thinking.
While in high school, Chin signed up for a women-in-tech mentorship program. The experience inspired her to participate in virtual hackathons, which introduced her to technology in the context of collaboration and intentional creation for social impact.
“COVID hit my junior year of high school, and it was the summer between junior year and senior year spent at home that I got really excited about computer science,” Chin said. “As someone from a low-income high school in a community with little access to computer science education, I was very fortunate to learn about mentorship programs and hackathons through social media.”
“I absolutely love being a UCLA student as I feel that the student culture creates an environment of positivity and collaboration,” Genevieve Chin said.
Her first project was building a website about COVID-19 resources with her younger sister, and they were both amazed they could build something useful out of seemingly nothing in the middle of a pandemic. Determined to pursue computer science, Chin spent hours upon hours searching for learning opportunities and connecting with students from areas with more computer science access to learn about what they did. By the time college applications came around, she had organized hackathons, completed coding camps, formed connections with industry professionals and taught coding classes so other students could get the exposure she never had at a younger age, so selecting computer science as her major seemed like the natural next step and UCLA was an easy choice.
Chin has made the most of her first two years at UCLA. She joined the Federal Relations office within the Undergraduate Students Association, Bruin Entrepreneurs, the UCLA chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery and Alumni Scholars.
Having learned computer science from coding camps for girls, Chin said diversity and inclusivity have always been top of mind. “Making spaces and communities on campus where people can thrive in their own identities means a great deal to me,” said Chin, who is an organizer for QWER Hacks — a hackathon for the LGBTQIA+ community — and a co-technical director for the UCLA chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
During her sophomore year, Chin was one of 25 student leaders across UCLA invited to take part in the Chancellor’s Leadership, Innovation, Networking and Knowledge (LINK) program, which includes a weeklong visit to Washington D.C. for meetings with national leaders and UCLA alumni, as well as a two-quarter-long course on leadership and social change.
“It was an incredible experience to engage in super intriguing and oftentimes tough conversations with such a wide array of students from different countries, with different majors and worldviews, who I probably would have not met were I not in this program,” Chin said. “This program greatly contributed to my excitement about school, social change and being there for my friends.”
Inspired by this experience, Chin is pursuing a minor in community engagement and social change to explore ways to effect positive change in society by leveraging technology’s potential to create a social impact on a large scale.
“I absolutely love being a UCLA student as I feel that the student culture creates an environment of positivity and collaboration,” Chin said. “One thing I really wanted to do in high school was to get involved in research that studies the relationship between technology and society in addition to more traditional computer science research, and I hope to pursue both of those pathways into the latter half of undergrad!”
Thinking ahead, Chin said she hopes to start her career in the technology industry as a software engineer before pivoting to focus on improving technology and innovation policy. She looks forward to helping encourage collaboration in technology and widen access to computer and technology education.
Riley de Jong contributed to this story.