Itunu's Story: Science Is Magic
Science Is Magic
By: Itunu Alao
Photos By: Peter HyungJun Yoon
Science has always played an important role in my life. It all began with my hatred for fiction books. From a young age, I fell in love with nonfiction books and learning the raw facts of the world. I enjoyed seeking out the facts behind every day phenomena.
Most of all my love for science exists because of one person: my father. I was born in Nigeria and moved to Queens, New York when I was five years old. My dad has always teased that if it weren’t for me, he’d be a professor of science but he still nurtures this passion of his. He has been my personal science professor and he has passed this passion on to me. Our mutual love for science has bonded us throughout the years. I must pursue science because it is important to who I am as a person. Science is at the core of my being.
Growing up in Far Rockaway, Queens shaped my value for community. I decided to join the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance’s (RWA) Shore Corps program to help give back. Then in my sophomore year of high school, RWA partnered with the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium and started the Environmentor program. I was really excited to join the inaugural class of Environmentor to transition from environmental activism to environmental science. I also have always loved trying something new and taking advantage of opportunities and this one came at the perfect time.
With Environmentor I was paired up with another student, Lucrecia, and we were matched with our mentor, Jeannette Rodriguez, who was helping renowned scientist, Dr. Russell Burke of Hofstra University, on his 20 years of research of terrapins, or turtles, in the Jamaica Bay area. We started our research by walking on a nature trail and in the woods where the turtles nested. We would tag turtles for our processing facility carefully to not disturb any nesting turtles. We started a secondary part of the research with Jeannette to focus on her personal research of raccoons in this area since there is a rising issue of raccoons disturbing the turtle population by eating their eggs. So when possible we would also put protective cages around the turtle nests.
It was important to research and understand the context of the turtles first and then move our focus to the raccoons. The secondary part of our research was collecting samples, such as raccoon hair twice a week, and setting up “spy” cameras to photograph and video the raccoons. Researching the raccoons was the most difficult part and also, if I’m being honest, a little frightening. We had to make 20–30 DIY snares to place around the area. Our research is ongoing and we will be testing the raccoon hair this September. This summer I hope to volunteer with Jeannette and Dr. Burke for the turtle research.
The most memorable part of this field research was setting the turtles free. Once one of the researchers even got urinated on by a turtle–it was a mess! At first when a turtle was liberated, it would cautiously stay put, but then after realizing it was free it would take off swimming rapidly away! Most people think turtles are slow, but they can have speed, too!
This experience with Environmentor taught me what authentic science research is. I had imagined I would be spending my summer in an air conditioned lab. However, I learned through experience that there is a physical side of science. Being an environmental scientist takes a lot of fieldwork requiring the perseverance through weather and much walking!
My mentor, Jeannette, taught me many important lessons through this process. She taught me the technical elements of being a scientist such as how to properly collect samples and how to create routines. Perhaps more importantly though, she helped me develop strong communication and a sense of responsibility. In the final stage of the program, as we prepared our research poster and presentation, Jeannette met us at a café. From opening to close we spent hours working on our poster and presentation with Jeannette’s tireless support.
This was the first time I ever did an official presentation and it was also the first time I presented research that I was a part of. I was fundamentally connected to this research and its results. I felt so much happiness and pride from this achievement.
Before Environmentor, I was planning on pursuing forensic science but now I am very much considering environmental science. I love environmental science since it can give evidence and explanation for all matter. This fall I will start my senior year of high school and as I start preparing for college I know that Environmentor has opened my eyes to what I want to, and what I can do, with my future.
Being a part of the Consortium has given me so many opportunities to meet new people, learn new things and connect with the NYC science community. Most of all it has given me a sense of importance. It has illuminated a light inside me and given me the confidence to pursue my science dreams. I encourage other young people to be open to trying new things and not to just think about trying, but to take action.
Science is so important because it makes up where we are and what we are doing. It gives us explanations and answers about our universe. I truly believe science is a universal language that connects humanity and allows us to go anywhere. Being able to understand this opens you to more opportunities and experiences. Science is magical.
The most incredible part of all this is that my journey with science is just beginning.
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