Piedmont High teen’s future looks bright, wins Apple contest


To find Gianna Yan seven or eight years from now, head to the White House. Yes, that White House, the one in Washington, D.C.

“I’m going to be working in the White House Office of Science and Technology,” says Piedmont High School student Yan, 16, who is already planning her career and its footprint that she hopes to leave for future generations.

Piedmont High School student Gianna Yan, 16, is a NASA intern and a 2021 scholarship winner in Apple’s 10th annual Student Swift Challenge, in which students submit code written in Apple’s Swift programming language. Her app, Feed Fleet, paired seniors and at-risk individuals, especially people in communities suffering severe food insecurity, with volunteers who delivered food and other essential goods during the pandemic. (photo courtesy of Gianna Yan) 

“I got to meet Representative Barbara Lee a few years ago and realized we can make social change just through changing legislative policies. I want to further the movement of computer science education throughout K-12 schooling. I had tech resources, but there are inadequate resources overall in the Oakland Unified School District. If we’re going to have a more just future, we need to teach the next generation of girls and people of color computer science skills.”

Yan’s bold statement is more than a mouthful of hot air spouted by an intelligent, creative, confident young woman of tomorrow. In 2019, she won U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier’s, D-Hillsborough, Congressional App Challenge with @bay, an app that streamlines the voting process for millennials and increases civic engagement in youth communities.

Yan is also a NASA intern and a 2021 scholarship winner in Apple’s 10th annual Student Swift Challenge, in which students submit code written in Apple’s Swift programming language. Her app, Feed Fleet, was submitted and featured in a presentation Yan gave at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this year. The app paired seniors and at-risk individuals, especially people in communities suffering severe food insecurity, with volunteers who delivered food and other essential goods during the pandemic.

Piedmont High School student Gianna Yan, 16, says she plans to eventually work in the White House Office of Science and Technology and is already planning her career and its footprint that she hopes to leave for future generations of girls, women and people of color working in science and technology. (photo courtesy of Gianna Yan) 

Swift Challenge scholarship winners receive a one-year membership in the Apple Developer Program, which supports and transforms students’ code-based ideas and projects into real apps. “Graduates” have built successful careers in technology, founded venture-backed startups and created nonprofits focused on using technology.

After meeting Lee and during the months since winning the scholarship, Yan led workshops to teach basic coding skills to elementary school students from Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and joined The Farmland Project, a student-created nonprofit that connects farms with surplus produce to nearby food banks. She is working on two apps in addition to releasing Feed Fleet, one that helps people conduct breast cancer self-examinations and detects heart disease in women and another that assists students reporting incidents of sexual assault on school campuses.

Asked about the most important instruction along with coding skills that young people interested in technology should receive, Yan says, “There are courses that teach about ethical technology, ethical AI (artificial intelligence), so it’s not just coding. It’s teaching about privacy issues with social media or how computer science can go wrong if users aren’t educated on ethics or humanity.”

Yan’s mother, Renee Liu, teaches math at a Bay Area community college, and her father, Jim Yan, is a property manager. She says her earliest memory of marrying her passion for social justice with technology was a TED-style speech she gave about intersectional feminism.

“I was in sixth grade. It’s about how your race, age, gender and sexual orientation intersect. It’s not about oppression; it’s talking about navigating the life that your identity gives you. For example, an Asian American woman and an African American woman are not the same; their experiences are different. … Because of those stereotypes, things that happen and their reactions to them are seen differently. There’s less understating of racial targeting and weaknesses in the justice system.”



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