According to Jenny Ye ’13, her interest in politics can be traced back to her New York City roots. “It’s a city that has so many different kinds of people,” she says.
Growing up in Manhattan’s Chinatown as a daughter of immigrant parents, Ye immersed herself in the community in multiple ways. In high school, she learned about a tenant-organizing group in Chinatown and participated in a youth training program.
“It changed my life,” she says. “I was organizing my neighbors and learning how my neighborhood was changing really quickly—and what people could do about it.”
When she arrived at Harvard, Ye was still hooked on local politics. But it wasn’t until she served as an Institute of Politics student liaison for Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, that broader issues like women’s rights began to intrigue her. Ye also realized that national politics were more accessible than she’d thought. Now, as IOP President, she’s spreading that message to others. “That’s one of the missions of the IOP,” Ye says, “to feel that the big picture stuff is accessible to students.”
Increasing access to opportunities is something that has defined Ye’s time at Harvard. In addition to her involvement at the IOP, Ye, a CS concentrator, has worked to transfer her computer science expertise to those in need. Last spring, she learned about a program called CodeEd, which employs volunteer engineers to teach computer science to at-risk youth. Back home in New York between school years, Ye led a CodeEd summer mentoring program for young women to continue her term-time activities, and now teaches coding to girls at the Community Charter School of Cambridge.
“I think this is part of a bigger push to get CS teachers into classrooms,” Ye says. She also spends Saturday mornings teaching computer skills to Harvard employees through the IOP/PBHA CIVICS program. She’s passionate about expanding computer science education into middle and high schools as well.
When Ye’s not running the IOP or organizing CS education, she’s also involved in campus politics. Since sophomore year, she’s supported anti-punch campaigns, as well as initiatives to increase social space for undergraduates. In her free time, she hosts a weekly Facial Friday in her suite, where anybody can stop by for facials, snacks, and drinks—her own contribution to improving social space at Harvard.
Ye’s not yet sure where next year will take her, though she knows she wants to be in New York. “I want to combine technology and public service in some way—whether it’s through increasing access of women to computer science, or encouraging people of color and from low-income communities to participate in the political process,” Ye says. “Building inclusivity is something that motivates my work.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Jan. 12, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jenny Ye ’13 established a youth training program in Chinatown and a summer mentoring program through the computer science education nonprofit CodeEd. In fact, she participated in the Chinatown program and led an existing CodeEd summer program.