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Stanford students put computer science skills to social good
August 26, 2015 – 01:05 pm
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Four undergraduates have co-founded CS+Social Good, an organization that utilizes technology to make a positive social impact.

By Bethany Augliere

Video by Kurt Hickman

Four Stanford undergraduates have co-founded an organization that uses computer science to make the world a better place.

Last fall, Lawrence Lin Murata was sitting in CS 103: Mathematical Foundations of Computing, when he heard Keith Schwarz, lecturer in computer science, say something that would change the course of his path at Stanford: No campus organizations existed that used computer science to make a positive social impact. It struck a chord.

"I began to wonder, " Murata said, "if I could start an organization to empower students and change the mindset of how technology is used."

That night, Murata, then a sophomore, shared his idea with his roommate, Manu Chopra, and a spark grew into a flame. The roommates began asking friends from other social organizations, "How can we use technology to make the world a better place?"

After a year of planning and strategizing, CS+Social Good launched this fall, founded by Murata, Chopra, Edward Wang and Vicki Niu, with Schwarz on board as their faculty sponsor. CS+Social Good focuses on the intersection of computer science and efforts to make positive social impacts.

It started with a mixer in the basement of Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center. "We needed to see if there was an interest, " Chopra said. Two hundred and sixteen people signed up for the first event.

CS+Social Good's team has since grown from four to 20 members, and they are tackling everything from biweekly speaker discussions to an actual campus class that pairs student groups with nonprofit partners.

This fall, Murata and Chopra are leading CS+Social Good's first course, CS 90SI: Using Web Technologies to Change The World. The extensive application process whittled down more than 300 interested Stanford students to a fortunate 20.

"The projects these 20 students are working on will reach over 25 million people by the end of the year, " Chopra said.

Web technologies to change the world

CS 90SI has four project partners: the Oppia Foundation, the Government of Delhi, LaborVoices and SIRUM. Each external partner is paired with a team of five students for a specific project.

Among the 20 dedicated students is sophomore Michelle Guo from Fremont, California, who is a member of the Government of Delhi team. Guo and her classmates are building a website to help promote political accountability and foster a better relationship between the citizens and their representatives.

During elections in India, political parties provide a manifesto to the people. But according to Chopra, politicians in India are notorious for empty promises, which has led to an overall lack of trust in the government. So how do you create trust? You let citizens track whether or not the politicians follow through on their promises, said Chopra, who grew up in India and witnessed this lack of accountability firsthand.

Guo and her team are building a website, similar to PolitiFact in the United States, that will inform citizens of project progress. Users can also provide feedback to the government on finished projects. The Government of Delhi plans to launch the website mid-December.

Guo is excited to be working on a computer science project that isn't geared toward entertainment or profit. "Tech is a powerful tool that people take for granted, " she said.

Students are also working with SIRUM, co-founded by Stanford alumnus Adam Kircher. SIRUM is a nonprofit that has built a practical platform to transfer the $5 billion worth of unopened, unexpired and surplus medications primarily from nursing homes and pharmacies to safety-net clinics that treat underserved and uninsured populations.

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