Alex Tsai ’17 is a rising senior at Stanford University, majoring in computer science with a minor in ethics and technology. She’s a member of the Cardinal Division I women’s lacrosse team, a senior writer for The Stanford Daily newspaper and a Mayfield Fellow, a nine-month entrepreneurial work-study program. She helped establish an organization linking farms with surplus produce with food banks in need of food for distribution. Bishop’s Alumni Director Sarah Garro interviewed Alex recently to learn more.
What inspired you to get involved with The FarmLink Project?
When Stanford’s campus closed in response to COVID-19, I found myself at home with free time to fill and the urge to make a positive impact wherever it was needed. FarmLink was born when we saw the impact of food shortages, business closures, and lay-offs in each of our communities. I got involved in FarmLink because I had faith that motivated students nationwide could unite from our homes across the country to make an incredible positive impact. I was inspired by Stanford professor Tina Seelig, who says, "The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity.” I saw a huge opportunity to innovate a new food supply chain while sustaining the livelihoods of workers, prevent produce from ending up in landfills and put food on the tables of those who need it most. By the power of a grassroots effort, we can really help to alleviate some of the ramifications of a virus that has disproportionately affected the most underserved populations in America, one delivery at a time. I am also so grateful to FarmLink for giving me the rare opportunity to connect with students across the country. While 90% of us have never met in person, we've become close through our shared goals and desire to make a positive impact.
Describe your work with FarmLink.
I’m a fundraising team lead, responsible for raising the funds needed to sustain FarmLink’s operations. 100% of our funds raised go to purchasing produce to feed families and paying wages to farmers and truckers. I reach out to the social impact teams of companies to secure corporate donations, conduct individual outreach to secure donations from friends and family through creative fundraising campaigns, and write grant applications to submit to charitable foundations. This money is then used to transport surplus produce from farms to food banks in need. FarmLink is a team comprised entirely of college student volunteers, responsible for all end-to-end logistics. These duties include outreach to farms, transportation coordination, food insecurity research, technology development, fundraising, marketing, and strategic partnership outreach.
How did Bishop’s shape you?
Bishop’s gave me a lifelong love of learning. At Bishop’s, I learned how to embrace the ambiguity and paradox inherent in intellectual inquiry. In particular, Bishop’s gave me the most influential role models. Having Mr. Hendrickson as a teacher (American Studies and Advanced Honors English), coach (field hockey), and mentor shaped the way I pursued my education. I learned how to value authenticity over conformity and truth over convenience.
Bishop’s encouraged me to be a well-rounded student and have diverse passions. I never felt limited by my interests, and was encouraged to pursue as many extracurriculars as I could, from mock trial to lacrosse to The Daily Urinal. Bishop’s taught me how to thrive at the intersection of disciplines with a diverse skillset.
Being the captain of two Bishop’s sports teams taught me the importance of leadership by example, teamwork, and dedication.
I was an editor of the Daily Urinal in my junior and senior years. Editing the DU allowed me to find my voice and gave me an appreciation for intellectual discourse. I loved being a part of a quirky, humorous and controversial publication — as an editor, having that kind of reputation on campus was liberating and exciting. At the helm of the DU, I observed its role as a mirror to the campus’ emotional state. It was unconstrained by genre or style, dependent on the students’ current sentiments. The freedom the DU provided inspired me to test the limits of “cautious” journalism.
What are your favorite Bishop’s memories?
My favorite Bishop’s memories include my trips to Mr. Beamer’s office for publishing a controversial DU article, scrambling to edit the DU at 4 a.m., eating cafeteria mac and cheese, writing in Moleskine notebooks for Mr. Davis' and H’s English classes, sitting on my favorite couch in the senior rec room, eating chocolate chip scones from Brick and Bell, being the only senior in Mr. Gercke’s freshman ceramics class, getting my ankle taped by J in the training room, spending hours in Coach Carr and Coach Jen’s office, presenting math solutions in Dr. Zhao’s Calc BC class, and most importantly, being tardy to advisory every single day.
What advice would you give to current Bishop’s students?
From one former stressed-out Bishop’s student to another, I’d tell current Bishop’s students to relax, slow down, and appreciate the present. Appreciate serendipitous moments. Some of the most important lessons I learned from Bishop’s didn’t happen in the classroom. Every moment I spent after school chilling in H’s room, practicing with my teammates on the turf, or hanging out with my friends in the senior rec room were moments I cherished. Four years of high school go by all too fast.
I am considering a gap year given the COVID-19 disruption. I will continue to be involved with FarmLink in the coming months as well, creating strategic partnerships to ensure the longevity of the organization.
Update Sept. 14, 2020: Last week, Alex was a guest speaker in Mr. Meacham's Entrepreneurship class via Zoom. She spoke to students, shared more of the FarmLink Project's story, and encouraged current Bishop's students to find ways to connect and make a difference.