The Apple Scholars Program and Rewriting the Code jointly recognized Anna Quinlan ’23 for her work in the open-source diabetes community, along with her commitment to increasing cultural awareness in technology as an Indigenous woman in Dec. 2021.
Quinlan’s “culturally relevant perspectives” and passion for tech inclusion caught the eye of Rewriting the Code and Apple, according to the award announcement. She is among three award recipients from Rewriting the Code, a non-profit dedicated to empowering women in tech. Awardees are granted a $15,000 scholarship, which comes with a technology package and exclusive access to an immersion event with Apple.
Quinlan, who is majoring in computer science at Stanford, has used her technological background to develop medical technology for patients with diabetes. An intern at Tidepool since 2019, Quinlan also contributed to Tidepool Loop, an iPhone app that automates and simplifies insulin-dosing by connecting to patients’ continuous glucose monitor.
“I care about people having the tools and the options to be able to manage their health in the way that works best for them,” Quinlan said. “That’s something that hasn’t always been the case, unfortunately.”
Under the mentorship of Rayhan Lal, an assistant professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, Quinlan created a program that can identify signs of self-harm behavior in users of diabetes software. The program uses an anomaly detector that leverages machine learning to flag data inconsistent with an individual user that could be a sign of self-harm. Quinlan also worked to optimize the device settings of automated insulin dosing systems used by thousands of diabetes patients.
“It has been my great privilege and honor to be a mentor to Anna and see her succeed and thrive,” Dr. Lal wrote to The Daily. “While it is obvious that she is a very talented computer scientist, she spends as much time understanding the user’s needs as she does programming.”
“Her commitment to those of us living with diabetes is exemplary,” Lal added.
Quinlan’s experiences as a Native American woman in STEM have helped inform her perspective on technology, she said.
“There are all sorts of biases and other things that may get encoded into the things that get built into algorithms,” she said. “If you don’t understand people, you end up building stuff that doesn’t work for them.”
Quinlan said that having scientists from different backgrounds in the decision room helps ensure that technologies serve a diverse population of users. Native American students, however, make up a small minority of students and graduates with degrees in computer science, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Through her work as the president of Stanford’s American Indian Sciences Engineering Society, Quinlan hopes to change that landscape.
“I’m Cherokee, and it’s about being able to be at that table, being able to say, ‘Hey, have you thought about this when you’re building these kinds of systems?’” Quinlan said.
Sue Harnett, Rewriting the Code’s founder and president, wrote in a statement to The Daily that “Anna was an exceptional applicant because of the way she applied her education to solve a real-world problem affecting the indigenous community.”
When asked how she first became interested in diabetes technology, Quinlan mentioned observing the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in Native communities, as well as working on a project on type 1 diabetes while in high school.
“I just was really struck by how it’s a disease that affects every aspect of your life, and how there are treatments — but there’s still a lot of burden on the patient,” Quinlan said, explaining how this realization set her on a path toward patient-centered medical technology.
This summer, Quinlan will be working with Apple Health through an internship unrelated to her scholarship. She is excited for the work at hand: “Empowering patients to know what’s going on with their health is something that I value, and the team [at Apple Health] seems to really value that as well,” she said.