Leila’s Story: Science Answers My Questions About the World Around Me
Science Answers My Questions About the World Around Me
By: Leila Moshary
Between my junior and senior year of high school, I joined the High School Initiative in Remote Sensing of the Earth Systems Science & Engineering (HIRES) of the CUNY Remote Sensing Earth System (CREST) Institute at CUNY City College. I joined HIRES because I wanted to do something in the STEM field. Before this program I hadn’t been exposed to advanced coding or engineering or computer languages. The HIRES program was really appealing because it gave me the opportunity to learn all these different languages that I had never seen before and never had the opportunity to interact with previously. This was also a great opportunity to see how professors and graduate students work in the lab, how they do their research and try some research myself, too. This program was also really helpful for me as I was figuring out my options in the STEM field and how my future in STEM could look.
I’m a born and raised New Yorker. My mother is an economics professor and my father is an electrical engineering professor. I have two older sisters. The oldest of my two sisters, Sara, went into economics. The sister in between us, Ariana, went into electrical engineering and computer science. So my whole family is involved in science, math and academics.
When I was young I was little intimidated by STEM and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. So I pursued a lot of other talents and hobbies. I’ve always been into sports like soccer, softball and baseball. I also love music. I was always into playing guitar, piano and other instruments. Once I got a bit older I started looking into STEM programs and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it. I didn’t want to do STEM just because it was what my family was doing.
When I was in 8th grade, before doing HIRES, I participated in a weather program. It taught me all about the weather systems and how to identify them. I found this really cool and decided I wanted to pursue this passion a little more.
My high school math teacher, Ms. Weinstein, was also really influential on my trajectory with STEM. She allowed me to take some more advanced courses when I was still younger. So I was able to take Calculus a year ahead of the rest of my peers while simultaneously taking Physics which was really eye-opening for me. I always remember this as a “wow” moment. I would be doing a problem in Calculus class and then doing the same thing but in a different way in my Physics class. This enabled me to understand the duality of math and sciences where they can be interchangeable. Ms. Weinstein really influenced me throughout the rest of my high school career as she continued to push me to achieve more and do better in class.
With HIRES, I loved working with other students. In the mornings we would have classes and in the afternoons we would do our own research. In the morning classes, I got to hang out with other high school students and hear about their projects and what they were working on. I remember thinking, “Oh man they did this new thing with their project! Maybe I can do that too with my project?” I was inspired by my peers and that enabled me to improve on my own research. I also enjoyed that with HIRES I was able to work with college students and some of the other older students who worked in the lab full time with professors. It was really cool learning from them, seeing them work with professors, doing research in the labs and in the field, and seeing all the tricks they had learned. Through them, I was able to envision myself and my future in STEM. It was a unique opportunity to meet, collaborate and learn from others.
One of the most memorable moments from my HIRES experience was when we made a trip to this weather institute outside of NYC. We got to see these weather instruments in action. Before this trip we had been spending the summer pulling this data and assessing these numbers. So we had seen all the outputs, but up until this visit we had never really understood where all of this data came from. So with this trip we got to see all the instruments that were measuring these numbers that we had been working with. We also were able to meet with some of the scientists who work with and manage the instruments.
The project that I worked on during my time with HIRES analyzed the correlation between pollution and rain in the Jamaica Bay. We were asking ourselves: If it rains more, do pollution levels then rise in the Jamaica Bay? If so, why is that? Could it be solved with better irrigation and draining systems? We were looking at all of these different factors. I actually worked really closely with one of the undergraduate students. She was doing similar research and I learned a lot from her. It was nice to have a mentor who was only a few years older than me.
Presenting my research was a little intimidating because so many people were coming around to look at my poster. It was also a challenge to balance creating a poster that looked the part and wasn’t too overwhelming, while also including all the details of your research. I remember being impressed by all of my peers’ posters. To see everything that we all accomplished and took on with these projects was amazing. I was proud to present my research because I had worked really hard on it throughout the summer and I was also glad to see my friends and peers presenting theirs.
I loved HIRES so much that the summer after graduating high school and before my freshman year of college, I went back and I did some research under Professor Jorge Gonzalez. I researched the phenomena that happens during summertime when the electrical grids get over used and cause blackouts. These blackouts can be highly dangerous to the elderly and young children because of the heat. We found this often happens on days over certain temperature thresholds. In the end, I got to present my findings at the summer symposium. That was really an incredible experience because I conducted my own study. It was the first time I led my own research, made my own discoveries and I created and independent project.
Participating in HIRES really solidified my drive for STEM. While I still pursue my hobbies with sports, music and other things, I decided I really wanted to study engineering. HIRES was a hands on experience in the world of engineers and academics, so it really strengthened my want to be an engineer through working on my own project and seeing the projects of my friends and other professors. It really made me 100% sure that engineering was the right fit for me. HIRES taught me while research can be overwhelming, it is something that I could do. There is often this disconnect where you hear about research in the media and it seems like “Oh wow this is really cool! How do these people do this? I could never do something like that!” It seems abstract and unattainable. However, after spending time in the HIRES program and learning how to research and doing research, I learned that doing research was possible.
Being part of a STEM community with HIRES and the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium is really important. Now I am on the other side of this community, where I have started to mentor younger children. I am working at a STEM camp, Launch Math and Science Centers, for younger students in elementary and middle school to give back to this community that gave so much to me and taught me so much about what I want to do with my college career and life. I’m very grateful for having this open community of STEM for students and this is why I really want to give back anyway that I can. It is really special to be helping these kids at such a young age as they’re starting their STEM journey just as I am solidifying the end of mine as I finish up my college degree. I am helping them fulfill their passion just as my mentors did for me.
I just finished my first year of college at Cornell University in the Engineering Program. I am really happy with where I am and what I am studying. While the research that I did at HIRES was more environmental, I decided I really want to be a mechanical engineer. After college I’m not entirely sure what I want to pursue, but it will definitely be something in the STEM field. I may minor in aerospace engineering and I can see myself working for a company like NASA or NOAA again.
While STEM can seem daunting, it is definitely something anyone can do and master. STEM may not initially seem as interesting as the English book you’re reading or the video game that you’re playing, but STEM is related to everything. Everything that you see is somehow related to STEM.
I think STEM is so important to the world. I have this drive to know more and to know why. Science is the answer to why. Why do the trees grow this way? Or, why do the tides come in? I have this yearning to know the answer of why, why, why. What is great about doing research is you find this answer of why. Having knowledge about STEM has really armed me with the tools to answer these questions. Science is the answer to the questions that I have about the world around me.
I am very grateful for the HIRES program and all the people who have helped me get to this point. I don’t think I would’ve been able to achieve what I have without HIRES or my STEM mentors. I hope that someday some of the kids I am currently teaching, will feel the same about my mentorship.