Class of 2018: Sami Chiang champions hands-on learning

MyVU has profiled 14 members of the Class of 2018. We’re featuring their stories in the lead up to Commencement on May 11.

Sami Chiang (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)
Sami Chiang (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

Sami Chiang was conducting experiments and using critical thinking long before she knew what those things were. The daughter of a school administrator and an engineer, the Berkeley, California, native’s life was immersed in experiential learning from the start.

“During the summers, my mom would have my brother and me do science experiments with household items and keep journals,” she said. “We went on field trips to museums. It was like our own little summer school, but all we knew was that it was fun.”

It’s not surprising then that Chiang would choose to double major in child studies and education, with a focus on learning in diverse contexts.

“I love kids and I love the classroom, but what’s really fun is when you see kids learning in informal environments,” she said. “Education extends so far beyond the classroom, and a lot of times it’s in these kinds of settings that a student’s mind opens up and they start to see what’s possible.”

With a computer science minor and a passion for coding, Chiang created the student organization Code Ignite. Two years on, Code Ignite is a welcome partner in 13 free programs at nearly a dozen low-income schools in Nashville, serving more than 250 elementary, middle and high school students and connecting more than 80 student volunteers to serve. This year, Chiang applied for and received grants from both Google igniteCS and the Nashville Predators, using those funds toward curriculum development and materials to expand her program to include Lego WeDo robotics.

“In math and science, there is the misconception that not everyone can do it and it’s all about solving for that one right answer,” she said. “In my teaching career I hope to flip that model. When a student takes initiative and engages in critical thinking and struggles productively, that is the most powerful kind of learning.”