Teen Supports the Next Generation of Aspiring Young Researchers

Daily Point of Light # 7730 Jan 22, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Grace C. Liu. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Grace C. Liu was born in Thailand but has spent most of her life in Syosset, New York. She is currently a high school student with diverse interests including reading, writing, drawing and running. Her research focuses on behavioral economics, gender economics, decision-making under uncertainty using artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship, gender digital divide and the history of gender disparities in sports.

Grace founded Research to Empower (ReTE) as a way to encourage and support the next generation of aspiring young researchers. Grace’s younger sister, Jessica, is ReTE’s director of design and marketing, using her artistic talents to enhance visual teaching elements to make them appealing to kids.

What inspires you to volunteer?

As a first-generation immigrant, I witnessed, firsthand, the power of education to transform lives. In 7th grade, I was selected into a research team where I was the only girl. This is where I discovered that research resources are not as available to certain people. There are many research programs, but most are either extremely expensive or have a less than 10% admittance rate, which puts them out of reach to all but a small portion of the student population. People who can’t afford these programs, often girls, people of color and people from low-income families, can’t access these resources as easily. I believe that there should not be racial, gender, cultural or socio-economic reasons holding you back from doing research.

Grace C. Liu (right) and Jessica C. Liu (left) at the Syosset Public Library, New York, for a ReTE workshop. /Courtesy Grace C. Liu

Tell us about your volunteer role with Research to Empower.

My role as the founder is to bring a dedicated team together, look for networks and resources and partnership opportunities such as an event at Syosset Public Library workshop for kids to learn to research. I also look for national and global level connections. For example, I am on the Youth Advisory Council for the National Youth Leadership Council which has opened the door for me to connect with many like-minded people who might support my initiative.

I have applied for a number of scholarships and grants for high school students that have helped me fund and sustain ReTE. I also help oversee student volunteers around the world. Our board assigns them the role they’re best suited to. We also have academic advisors including my own mentor who has been incredibly supportive not only in my own research but also of ReTE.

I am an ambassador for the Davidson Institute, which provides support for Gifted and Talented students. The ambassadorship program is for students like me who have a passion project and need advice on how to implement it. I also design and produce videos and courses. I spent two years developing a research guidebook that will be published by Post Hill Press on Jan 30, 2024. My goal is to inspire more students, educators and parents to empower students with the ability to research. I applied for and received an annual grant from Google which helps me manage ReTE marketing including creating and placing ads that generate awareness and interest. Locally and through our website, I provide classes, podcasts, videos and other free research resources.

Speaking of teaching how-to research, I provide students a list of databases where kids can gather data. I teach them how to do proper online searches using search engines. I also teach students how to reach out to mentors. Many students get tripped up in finding a research mentor, especially kids in middle or high school. Most schools don’t offer courses on how to conduct research so finding a mentor can be the difference between continuing to fuel a student’s passion for a subject and giving up.

Mentors are in high demand and often unavailable and many aspects of the research process can be discouraging. Not having guidance can lead to frustration. Students who find mentors can learn how to conduct research, but many students who have no idea where to find a mentor or resources often become discouraged.

They may have great questions but don’t know who to ask or what methods to use in finding information. For example, many studies and articles published online are behind a paywall which can make them inaccessible to kids. There are information gaps, and that’s part of where I can make a bridge. Overall, I teach students to become critical thinkers, lifetime learners and innovators by sharing the fundamentals of quantitative and qualitative research and the related skill sets.

ReTE presents research tools that are colorful, engaging, vibrant and fun, encouraging both avid researchers and novices.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

I found from personal experience that as a person of color and a female, I felt like I didn’t belong, like I was an outsider. The environment wasn’t as welcoming to women of color. I came up against a lot of discrimination and biases. I felt like I didn’t have a voice. This threatened to diminish my motivation and will to aspire to reach higher.

But, I persevered. I found a mentor who inspired me and helped me access the resources I needed, and this in turn inspired me to start ReTE so I could help other kids gain access to research resources and teach them how to conduct research. I recently received the author copies of my book, Research To Empower. I’m excited to have it published soon.

I founded Research to Empower after I recognized there is a huge demand for students to learn how to conduct research, but not every student has access to resources and there’s still a feeling of exclusion for females, people of color and students from low-income families.

What are your long-term plans or goals for Research to Empower?

Thinking big and long-term, I want to reach a million people globally, whether it’s students or educators, who will find our resources useful. I want to travel around the world to hold workshops and live events. I envision hosting one large annual conference with speakers to celebrate the importance of student-led research. I also want to do a book tour for my book, which will be published soon.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

I am fueled by the excitement in the kids I talk to. It reinforces why I’m motivated and inspired to do this. I was once that kid wishing there was someone who could reach out to me with the treasure chest of resources that ReTE can provide. I love seeing that kids genuinely want to do more research.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

Throughout this journey, I’ve learned to love volunteering. This is why I would love to and am determined to devote more time and effort to it. Through experience, I have improved my teaching techniques and sharpened many critical skills like writing, public speaking, presenting, conflict resolution and time-management.

Grace offers a free in-person masterclass to teach students (grades 6-9) effective tips, in an engaging way, how to start their research projects at New Energy Education Center, Syosset, New York. /Courtesy Grace C. Liu

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

Short-term goals include planning more local in-person events, expanding our Ambassador Program, integrating AI-based software to allow students access to their personalized AI research tutor and open resources. I have a lot of scheduled events taking place in the next few months. These talks are virtual since I speak to students all over the world. Recently, I spoke with students in Kazakhstan, China, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Austria and the Netherlands. I have found that these students are extremely engaged and eager to learn. Through classes, podcasts, videos, talks and publications, our impact extends to 81,000 people in 140 countries.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

You get so much joy from solving problems. My key takeaway is that it’s so important to take action on issues that are important to you. Talking about an issue is important, but diving in and getting your hands dirty is even better. I want to be a role model who can inspire other people to take action.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

First, take time for reflection. Know your why. What direction do you want to go in? What topics hit home for you? What have you cared about your whole life? What problem do you want to spend your time solving? That sets the direction for your actions. Then, take time to explore volunteer options. You can join an existing organization or start something on your own.
As you get into volunteering, don’t be afraid to adjust your role according to your skills, passions, time and feelings. It has to be sustainable. It has to be something you genuinely want to do, something you’re passionate about.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

I once wanted to do something but thought I was too small, too inexperienced, but I went ahead and did it anyway. Through my story, I hope more people will be motivated to start their passion volunteering projects to solve real world problems in their own communities. I also find it is important to focus on what is meaningful for you and what you are passionate about.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Grace? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Jarmila Gorman