Top Abu Dhabi school pupil tells of her future in science

The fourth winner of the Haitham Zamzam Al Hammadi Medal of International Friendship reveals the doors that it opened for her

Taylor Campbell has been inspired by the opportunities presented to her after winning the Haitham Zamzam Al Hammadi Medal of International Friendship. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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Haitham Zamzam Al Hammadi attended the American Community School of Abu Dhabi and after graduating maintained his close relationship with the school as a board member and trustee. He went on to work for the Abu Dhabi government before his death in 2017.

In his honour, a Medal of International Friendship was created in 2018 to be awarded to one junior pupil for their contribution to global citizenry and reinforcing the school’s core values of curiosity, courage, compassion and integrity.

In May 2021, Taylor Campbell became the fourth recipient of the Medal – and it has been quite a year: touring Hub71, taking a masterclass on the emirate’s policy agenda and the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and even going behind the scenes at the Grand Prix.

Here, she looks back at a thrilling 12 months that further fuelled her passion in computer science.

While the first decade of my life was spent in New York City, I would say I have done most of my “growing up” in Abu Dhabi. I arrived in August 2015 after a 12-hour plane journey, jet-lagged, disoriented, but mostly curious about the unfamiliar world in which I found myself.

Shortly after arriving, I began sixth grade at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi and, while I was apprehensive at first, the welcoming community made my transition easy and painless.

This positive atmosphere would continue to define my experience at the school and in Abu Dhabi, allowing me to pursue my academic interests, as well as grow and change into the person I am today.

The school has always offered a wide variety of classes, adding new courses to adapt to the interests of its diverse pupil population. This was the case when it began offering computer science courses when I was in my first year of high school.

As someone who has always been interested in Stem subjects, I immediately signed up for the course. After the first few classes, I knew this was a field I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life.

As I have made my way through high school, and advanced through different computer science courses, my enjoyment of the subject has not only increased, I have also grown to recognise the importance of diversity and inclusion in computer science as technology becomes more of a necessity in our lives.

Taylor Campbell, the 2021 recipient of the the Haitham Zamzam Al Hammadi Medal of International Friendship, at a ceremony at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi to announce the 2022 winner. Photo: American Community School of Abu Dhabi

During the Covid-19 pandemic, technology became vital to how we functioned in the “new normal".

Every day, I would spend hours online attending classes and speaking friends who lived down the street. And every day, I recognised more and more how much of a privilege this was, because billions of people around the world, through no fault of their own, do not have access to the internet.

Once a luxury, the internet has become a basic need. I envision a world in which everyone has a chance to be connected to our technology-driven globe.

Winning the medal has been incredibly rewarding and I feel honoured that someone thought of me as a person who could change the world using what I love.

I have had the opportunity to participate in many wonderful masterclasses and take a tour of Hub71, where I met people behind start-ups and learnt a lot about technology and business.

Seeing all these truly successful people has made me understand how important it is to follow what you believe in and what you’re passionate about. Here is what I did as part of the award:

Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

I was invited to spend a day at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. I enjoyed the amenities of the Paddock Club, walked in the pit area and, perhaps most importantly, watched the cars.

I am usually averse to loud events with lots of people, but I was captivated by the cars racing at breakneck speed along the track. Not only that, but the pit crews were synchronised, collaborating with ease. The entire event was absolutely electric.

Masterclass about Abu Dhabi’s policy agenda and its Economic Vision 2030

Although I have lived in Abu Dhabi for the past seven years, I regretfully know little about the economic environment of the emirate and the country. That was why I was thrilled to meet a senior Abu Dhabi government adviser to discover more about the economic policy of the past, present and future.

We unpacked the policy agenda published in 2007 and the Economic Vision 2030. I was grateful to understand each and every choice made by the emirate's government and how they affect my life today.

These documents were inspired by the visionary leadership of the UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and represent the orientation of his ideas in our ever-developing world.

Tour of Hub71

It is always wonderful to see people creating products they believe will help others or improve the world, and Hub71 is full of people like this. I had the opportunity to meet the people behind three tech start-ups and learn about their visions, as well as their products.

The first start-up was Mental VR, which seeks to integrate virtual reality into the professional world for training.

Training often costs businesses a great deal of money, but with the use of virtual reality in the professional world, training could become cheaper and more accessible.

Taylor attends a ceremony at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi to announce the 2022 winner of the award. Photo: American Community School of Abu Dhabi

Lamsa is an EdTech start-up that aims to teach young children Arabic. When I met one of the founders, I learnt about the innate ability of young children to absorb languages. The start-up has created an app to target this trait.

What was interesting was the code they used to create it was similar to the programming I learnt about at school.

The third start-up I worked with was Key2Enable, which has created a keyboard designed to allow people of determination with motor difficulties to use technology with relative ease.

Instantly, I was touched. This product allows people of determination to connect with technology and the rest of the world, and was fully aligned with my hope for a more inclusive future.

I asked to come back on another day to observe and help out if they needed an extra pair of hands. I continued to work with and learn from them for a couple of days and greatly enjoyed the experience.

One-on-one with G42 Cloud

It is always a pleasure to chat with someone who is incredibly passionate about what they do and the leadership at G42 Cloud was no exception.

We examined a variety of aspects of the world, from artificial intelligence and machine learning, to space travel and the limits of humankind. I now have insight from someone with a great deal of experience in the field, for which I am grateful. I will take that with me to the next stages of my life beyond high school.

Masterclass with Atlantic Productions

I met Anthony Geffen, the founder and chief executive of a company based in immersive storytelling. Atlantic Productions specialises in combining VR, augmented reality and film to tell astonishing stories.

I was most excited about its plans to bring AR to the classroom. Few have access to VR technology, but this company allows anyone with a smartphone to access immersive AR learning experiences, which was wonderful to witness. I was inspired by their work.

Masterclass with the Zayed Centre for Research in Rare Disease in Children

I did not have much experience with AI in the medical field before this masterclass. I learnt about the digital transition under way in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London and the Zayed Centre.

It is clear the medical field can be at the forefront of technological advancement, as it has been for mechanical improvements such as using robotics or bio and nano mechanics in operations.

I was engaged by the research the hospital is looking into and am excited to see where it will continue to integrate technology.

Next steps

These experiences would not have been possible without the generosity of the Al Hammadi family. They saw the tragic loss of a remarkable person as a chance to share his spirit of positivity and friendship with our school community.

It has given pupils an opportunity to pinpoint how they can affect the world using what they are passionate about, and meet people who can help them do just that.

It is so important to follow what you believe in and I plan to do that as I move on to study computer science at Pomona College in the US in the autumn.

This award has been an important way for me to continue to discover how I can ensure the world that I envision, a more inclusive and tolerant one, is somewhere we all live in.

Updated: June 20, 2022, 6:21 AM