Why you should care
Because this Stanford senior has a strong vision of what the future of diversity looks like.
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When 21-year-old Christine Chen, founder of online platform DiverseCity and a 2016 OZY Genius Award recipient, traverses San Francisco’s Bay Area on bike — lugging her tripod, backpack and camera bag — to meet up with a subject for her video project, she’s usually listening to a podcast. A self-proclaimed multimedia junkie, she counts This American Life and Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People among her favorites. As she mulls over each spoken word, she creates anagrams in her mind. El Camino Real rearranges to “alien clam roe,” she explains. The letters in her own name, Christine, can be re-sorted to “nice shirt.” She delights in arriving at unexpected words with completely different meanings.
When Chen, a Stanford senior studying human biology, received a grant from OZY last year, she dove further into developing DiverseCity, which illuminates the career paths of a diverse group of leaders in order to inspire low-income, minority students to think ambitiously about their careers. Intrigued by the influence of TED Talks, which published more than 2,100 video presentations that have been viewed more than a billion times, Chen started out by asking professionals to upload videos about their careers and the challenges they overcame. Since receiving the grant, Chen has met many of these leaders in person, interviewing them for up to four hour-long stretches before editing and sharing their stories online.
In DiverseCity’s introductory video, Chen tells the story — while drawing a character sketch — of Rebecca, a 16-year-old from central California whose parents speak only Spanish. Rebecca dreams of becoming a doctor, but it’s daunting. She doesn’t know if she can shoulder the financial or time commitment of med school, and doesn’t know anyone like her who has done it. Chen then introduces Paulina, who lives in San Francisco, many miles away, and is a top female Hispanic doctor in the country. She had to overcome a lot to get to where she is today, but is wildly successful and has a wealth of experience to share. “Between Rebecca and Paulina, it’s like there’s this wall,” Chen explains in the video. “They’ll probably never meet each other, and Paulina is just really busy. So what if we could take that wall down?”
DiverseCity viewers can initiate mentorship relationships by sending off questions to Chen’s interviewees. Chen hopes the project will lead to meetup events and other offline interactions. “I would love it to be a tool that students and educators come to when looking for unique perspectives about paths they want to pursue but haven’t seen before,” she says.
Chen’s upbringing mirrors that of the students she hopes to engage. She was raised by immigrant parents from China who had to compromise on their career ambitions because of financial circumstances. Her father would have liked to pursue English but found it more realistic to study computer science; her mother dreamed of becoming a doctor, but since she didn’t have the money for it, went into physical therapy instead. Chen’s parents’ limitations were real — but she hopes the next generation can find creative ways around the glass ceilings or high fences that hamper ambition.
In addition to DiverseCity, Chen recently took time off from college to work as a research assistant for TeachAIDS, which provides research-based, culturally driven tutorials about HIV/AIDS for more than 82 countries. Piya Sorcar, CEO and founder of TeachAIDS and a lecturer at Stanford, calls Chen “one of the most creative, dedicated and passionate people” she knows. “Her groundbreaking and tireless efforts toward developing research-based solutions to solve pressing global problems is an inspiration to all of us,” she says. “She will most definitely be one of the movers and shakers of our time.”
To be sure, Chen’s ambitions for DiverseCity come with a set of challenges, such as reaching the right audience and making the content resonate. “Christine is thinking about what’s important for marginalized communities and what the future of diversity looks like in professions, and it’s a real challenge to find innovative ways to address that,” says Rhea Boyd, a Bay Area pediatrician and public health advocate whom Chen interviewed for DiverseCity. “But already in her college career, she’s thinking outside the box about how to advance these voices — and it’s really powerful.” Chen says her grant has helped provide a “playground” for her project, and that the content of the future DiverseCity will probably look very different than it does today.
In the future, Chen plans to pursue a career as a physician who uses multimedia storytelling to advocate for social change. She’s been inspired by individuals who apply their professional degrees in unique, uncanny and unconventional ways — for example, Ph.D.s who start nonprofits, M.D.s who work in education, computer scientists who work in poverty alleviation. “I am a storyteller at heart, a multimedia junkie and trained as a health researcher,” Chen says, explaining her hopes to blend all those elements while working as a physician. “Sound a bit like trying to be a jackalope?” she asks. “That’s OK by me.”
This editorial article was originally created by OZY Media and published on OZY.com prior to, and independently of its inclusion in this JP Morgan Chase & Co. sponsored series. OZY Media claims the full rights and responsibilities of this article.