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Photo Credit - Hana Wong

Alexandra Wong

Research Assistant

Johns Hopkins Medicine

And - Entrepreneur

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Shoot your shot until something sticks.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am a scientist, entrepreneur, and disability advocate. Currently, I am a first-year undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University where I study neuroscience, public health, and social policy. My research in science focuses on utilizing big data and technology to understand the science behind hearing loss. My current work focuses on developing algorithms for non-intrusively detecting the level of hearing loss in babies and laboratory animals who cannot easily respond to stimuli. I also co-founded a startup, Cognitivae, that aims to democratize mental health wellness. My team has fused artificial intelligence and human support to create four chatbot apps that can diagnose and treat over 9 mental health illnesses. We want to make mental wellness via digital tools accessible to all regardless of income or geographical location. As a disability advocate, I have become outspoken about disability inclusivity and accessibility in our communities. I've spoken on the TEDx stage, podcasts, and with international youth nonprofits to share my experience of living with hearing loss. I simply want people to embrace those with disabilities and I want those with disabilities to see their disability as a symbol of pride rather than a burden. I hope by seeing me, as a scientist and entrepreneur with hearing loss, that they realize that they can succeed in a STEM field as well because they have role models to look up to.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I chose to do auditory neuroscience research because I wanted to understand the science of hearing loss to create new technologies to help those with hearing loss. I specifically wanted to work with a more computational and data-driven focus because I love patterns! History has always been my favorite subject because I appreciate realizing how the events of the past affect the present and how every event we experience now has a precedent in the past. We can use data and findings from the past to predict what's next and to me, that's so powerful. So, I love using data to become a sage (kind of) and help push through breakthrough predictions.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

I faced the obstacle of having hearing loss. It took a long time for people to take me seriously because my speech wasn't always the clearest and I would miss out on moments in conversations because I couldn't hear everything. I haven't overcome my hearing loss, but I've shaped my life to transform it into a symbol of pride. I tackled this challenge by learning to be a self-advocate. I realized nobody was going to speak up for me if I didn't do it myself. I got captioning when I needed it by vocalizing it. I stood closer to people to figure out what they were saying. My speech-language pathologist taught me how to say words properly which was empowering. I see a disability as a superpower instead.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I never imagined that I would be a disability advocate and a researcher. I had always set my sights so low and thought my disability would keep me achieving my goals, but a switch kinda turned on after a bad bullying incident and I saw that I had a story to tell and the skills to prevent anything like that ever happening again.
I wish I could tell "younger me" to not be afraid of dreaming and keep shooting your shot until something sticks.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I love how interdisciplinary it is! STEM has so many applications and involves so many disciplines. It's not just biology going into learning about cells, there is technology going into building the microscope to see these cells for example. It's great to collaborate and learn from so many people from different fields. It's also amazing to see how your work has such a direct impact.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Shoot your shot until something sticks. The first thing you try isn't always going to work out and that's okay. You will find something you like and can explore by just putting yourself out there. Also, learn a little bit of coding at least. That will take you a long way especially in a virtual environment. Lastly, seek out mentors who are similar to you. They will be the best guides for continuing your STEM journey.

INSPIRATION

"Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today."