Ameena’s Story: Science is Life

Science is Life

By: Ameena Peters


I used to like math before, but you know how it is, math becomes difficult. But I found a passion for science instead. In my freshman year of high school, we had a field class where we would go to museums or collect water samples. Doing those types of outside experiments got me excited about science and inspired me to pursue it.


I am from Georgetown, Guyana in South America. I was born and raised there until I was nine then I moved to NYC. My parents were born there, too. Once in NY, I lived with my mother, stepfather and my three half- brothers. I was very competitive growing up. I really liked to race with my cousins. I would even challenge them in singing. Once I started high school, I did a lot of sports because I hated being inside. I put myself in a lot extracurricular activities like track, lacrosse, softball and so on. Even in college, I am doing the same thing. I’m on the Step Team and will be Vice President of the team this fall.


I had a lot of ideas when I was young about what I might grow up to become. At first I wanted to be a teacher, but then as I got older I realized I cannot teach someone else’s kid. I started getting interested in science when I was learning about the butterfly’s stages in school. I thought that was cool and I really like butterflies because of that lesson.

My Great Aunt has really influenced my academic trajectory. In Guyana she would always encourage me to do my homework. I wouldn’t be allowed to play outside unless my homework and studies were finished. My studies were always the most important to her. She would always say, “No boys. More school!”


While in high school, I applied to the Earth Institute of Columbia University’s and Lamont-Doherty's Secondary School Field Research Program (SSFRP) because I really liked science and I knew that I needed something to keep me engaged during the summer. This program was the highlight of my summer and it really helped me carve out a path in the STEM field.


I started SSFRP the summer after my Junior year of high school and I’m still involved with it as a college student. With the program, I started with a team that focused our project on phragmites australis. We were basically outside the whole time cutting down phragmites. We were a new team and we didn’t really know what to expect. We were experimenting by getting rid of the phragmites to see what impact it would have. The other team I joined was the plankton team which was a startup team. We went out and collected samples to see what kind of and how many plankton there were in the water. It was an observational project. I also did the battery team which was another startup. We were essentially trying to figure out how to construct a battery using a type of bacteria secretions to power items like a car battery or phone battery. 


Presenting my research was very scary since I don’t like public speaking. However, this experience definitely brought me out of my shell and showed me what I am capable of. I can present and I know what I am talking about.


Every year I end up making a lot of friends and building long-lasting bonds with people. We can hit each other up here and there to say “Hi, how’s it going? Are you doing the program again?” We are like a family.


This summer as a college student I’ve returned as a leader to intern with SSFRP. A co-leader and I are in charge of a team of four high school students. We are on the nutrients team. So far we have developed really strong data and the scientist that we’re working with is really pleased with the results. This summer my experience is distinct because I am a leader and I am working with a teacher. I have learned that at times as a leader, I have to step back and let the students do the work. Through this experience I’ve learned that sometimes being a leader means stepping out of the leadership role to give space for your students or others to become the leaders. After all, this is their project and they are the ones that are going to present on this research. It’s also a great experience because if my students want to do the program again, I am the one who is building that stepping stone for them if they would like to continue and eventually become a leader.

 Two of the high school students I took under my wing in 2015 while on the Battery Team


I have gained many leadership skills with SSFRP. When I started the program I was on the student end, and now I am a leader. So I learned from my teachers and now I am giving back to the students who came after me. These leadership skills have helped me thrive in college since I’m on eboards for different clubs. As a shy person who is not a fan of public speaking, I know that without SSFRP I would have never have become the leader that I am now.


I am a rising senior at SUNY Potsdam. I really don’t want it to be my last year because I love it so much. I am an Environmental Studies major with a minor in Biology. I still am figuring out what I want to do with my degree. Each time I intern and work with SSFRP, I gain more experience and clarity about my future with STEM.


I know in my future career I want to be working outside in the field, doing research and analyzing that research in the lab. I know being a scientist and researcher also means I need to write. Right now I am looking at a water quality internship that sounds really interesting and will diversify my experiences. This next year I will certainly be speaking with a counselor a lot about jobs, graduate school and different options for my life post-college. 

To me the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium and SSFRP builds a lot of meaningful connections. Before I started interning with the SSFRP program this summer, I wrote Dr. Bob Newton, the SSFRP Program Director, and told him how I was not sure what I wanted to do after graduating college. Do I get a job? Or, do I go to grad school? So he referred me to the scientist I’m now working with, Ray Sambrotto. As I am interested in water quality, and Ray does this kind of research, we were able to have a really relevant and helpful conversation. We talked about graduate school, all the experiences and skills that I will need for this career path and all of my different options. I love that these kids will also have these types of connections to collaborate with authentic scientists. This is just truly amazing.


Science is life. Science is awesome. There are so many different possibilities in the science field.  There are opportunities to do chemistry, water quality, biology, studying animals and everything around you. So if you are curious about science, I encourage you to give it a chance and check it out!


For Additional Information:

Secondary School Field Research Program