Bokai Zhang Is a Problem-Solver—Whether Serving His Community or Connecting with Students Worldwide
Global hacks and giving back.
- Written byAmber Klinck
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
Bokai Zhang is a very busy teen. The 17-year-old high school junior isn’t the kind of guy to wait around for things to get done. He’s also a big fan of tech with plans to study computer science in college. “I think the power of technology has the potential to make the biggest difference,” he says.
One of his interests is participating in hackathons, which Bokai describes as “an event where programmers can collaborate on software projects based on a given theme or topic.” The problem for Bokai is that hackathons typically aren’t accessible to high school students. “I thought it would be cool if I could create a platform where students could compete and actually win awards and prize money in order to encourage more participation,” he says of his inspiration for Global Hacks.
Bokai started working on Global Hacks in June 2020. “Initially I went on forums like Discord and other online forums where people discuss coding. I’d advertise there to attract students, and then it sort of spread by word of mouth.”
As of now, Bokai has held three hackathons with a total of more than 500 participants internationally. “Since we did it over Zoom, our participation has been all over the place. I’ve had a ton of kids from India and also a lot of kids from Europe. I think we even had one participant from Zimbabwe,” he notes.
Bokai is currently developing a website and building a social media presence to attract more participants to Global Hacks. “The only qualification to be able to participate is basic coding knowledge,” he shares.
“I think the power of technology has the potential to make the biggest difference.”
During the peak of the pandemic, Bokai turned his attention to another problem: “I volunteered for Care Misson, making hot Chinese food for the homeless in Downtown L.A. I talked to some of the local homeless population, and one of the main concerns they expressed was that they didn’t have accessible protection against COVID-19 since people would prioritize buying food over something like a face mask or shield.”
So Bokai designed and made more than 2,000 face shields to distribute. It’s not the first time he has collected items for the homeless and made a huge impact with something that seems simple. “I do a holiday drive for socks,” he notes. “One of the main articles of clothing they need are socks because they have to constantly throw them out and change them.”
Bokai has called the South Bay home for eight years. “My family is originally from Northeastern China, but we immigrated to the United States when I was in fourth grade.”
When he’s not serving his community or organizing academic hackathons for students, he’s conducting research with a professor of biotechnology from Oxford University in the field of regenerative medicine—a connection made through the alumni network of his father’s college in China.
So, yeah, Bokai is very busy. You might say he’s the kind of kid who will grow up to change the world, but it doesn’t look like we’ll have to wait that long. He’s already making an impact right here at home with his community service and Global Hacks.
He’s got big aspirations, but he tries to balance it all—maybe even taking a little time to enjoy a bike ride on a beautiful Southern California afternoon.