Supporting the Chicago community
In addition to creating a community of young computer scientists outside of UChicago, compileHer fostered a network of students within the College. Mehrotra describes the women who founded compileHer as some of her primary role models when she decided to pursue her interest in computer science and public service.
With the support of this community, Mehrotra and fellow computer science major Leslie Jones-Dove, AB’19, began a project with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office that sought to improve the work of public defenders.
“The course was very open-ended. We got together in groups and were basically told: ‘Build something,’” Mehrotra said of the project, part of a graduate-level computer science course. “I came into it with a very clear sense of wanting to leverage my technical background to support criminal justice reform efforts in the city of Chicago.”
The pair created a video transcription service and evidence management tool to assist the often under-resourced and over-worked attorneys. Since then, they’ve formed a company called JusticeText, completed a pilot study and received interest from public defender’s offices across the country.
Mehrotra was thrilled to see that she could make an impact with her work. This project was part of her ongoing efforts to unite her academic pursuits with public-oriented goals. As a leader at UChicago’s Institute of Politics, she met with activists and developed an understanding of how her computer science expertise could meet a community need.
“It’s important for me to make sure all the work I’m doing as a student is informed by experiences I’m having outside the classroom,” she said. “I think that being engaged with the city of Chicago and being on campus allowed me to immerse myself in conversations centered on justice before addressing them from an academic angle. I’m going to do my best to carve out those conversations, wherever I am.”
Mehrotra’s time on the UChicago campus provided an opportunity for many of those kinds of conversations. She credited a Civilizations sequence as one of the most transformative courses in her College experience.
“That was the first time that I got to read about academics and scholars and activists of color, particularly from India,” said Mehrotra. “It was empowering to learn about the ways in which these scholars transformed their experiences with trauma into work that redefined our conceptions of race, gender and society. The course really affirmed to me that this work is just as legitimate in an academic space as the philosophies of those who, for example, forged the principles underpinning our Constitution.”
In addition to her studies, Mehrotra completed internships with leading institutions in artificial intelligence, including Google Brain, Microsoft Research, Google DeepMind, Facebook and Peking University. This summer, she is continuing her research efforts at Stanford Law School, where her lab investigates means of leveraging AI technology to support federal agencies. She has experience applying deep learning algorithms to predict the progression of retinal diseases, perform natural language processing, and train robotic agents. All have the potential to bring dramatic improvement to public health in the coming years.