Tatyana’s Story: Combining passions for social change through STEM
Combining passions for social change through STEM
By: Tatyana Graham
Growing up in the Bronx, since I was a little kid I was always interested in science. I was mostly into space, because I wanted to be an astronaut. Science was always something there, but it was in the background. I didn’t pursue it and instead I did more artsy things like writing, reading and performing arts.
It wasn’t until 9th grade when my Living Environment teacher, Ms. Erlick, noticed that science was a strong subject area for me. She told me about Wave Hill's Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship (WERM) program and encouraged me to apply. I took my teacher’s advice and applied to the program and I got in. I was excited to part of a program at Wave Hill which was located in my own neighborhood of Riverdale. Then once I was in the program I really started to truly see my passion for science.
Being part of WERM was honestly a great time. It didn’t really feel like “work.” There were 9 other scholars in the program that year and we became like a family. I felt really blessed to be able to go on such amazing experiences like hiking, visiting the urban field station in Queens, meeting scientists and researching and learning about plant identification. I was learning about environmental science and things that not many people know about. In fact, because the knowledge I gained is not common, it was extra cool to show that to my friends. The WERM program and Consortium also helped me out beyond science by helping me get through high school, prepare for college, learn how to network and build my circles.
In the beginning of the program year, it was more focused on getting settled and teaching us about being ecologists and how to identify plants. Then we broke into teams and got matched with mentors. My research team was with my peers Noel and Jose. For my mentor, I chose Dr. Ferdie Yau who is a wildlife biologist and certified dog trainer. We researched which lures are successful in attracting coyotes to camera traps to monitor the coyote population in the Bronx and in NYC. Our research was part of a larger project called the Gotham Coyote Project.
We presented our research at the Student Research Colloquium hosted at the American Museum of Natural History with the rest of the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium. I can be quite shy and I typically worry a lot about presenting things. However, because this research was something I was so proud of, it made it easier for me to present. The words just came out! It also helped that as part of the WERM program we had a weekly improv class with the Irondale program that helped us prepare to speak at our graduation and present our projects. I gained a lot of confidence and learned how to present myself so that even if I am feeling nervous, it does not necessarily effect my public speaking or body language.
Being a part of WERM I learned a lot from my mentor, Ferdie. Ferdie helped me realize that there are so many different avenues in science and it is easy to combine your passions and still be a scientist. Even the fact that he can include his passion for dogs in his scientific research is so amazing to me. It really gives me hope that with my many interests and passions I can include all of them in my future academic and career plans.
My most memorable experience from WERM was our graduation. It was a bittersweet celebration that I had spent 14 months in a program and I was different person than I was at the beginning of it all. I was able to look back and reflect on how the program had changed my life, my perspectives and my drive for my future. I gained a lot of meaningful relationships and so much confidence to put myself out there and not let fear hold me back from pursuing what I want in life. Because of WERM I realized that even if your passion is not necessarily “really cool” or what your friends are doing, that as long as you are passionate about your cause and it makes you happy, then that is really all that matters.
This experience also enabled me to meet other teens in NYC that were interested in the same subject. Being part of Consortium means family to me. Even if different members don’t always get to mix a lot of the time or often, I still feel a connection to everyone who has been in a program in the Consortium because we’re like minded teens who dedicated time and effort to doing something STEM related. The great thing is you don’t necessarily have to know a lot to get involved in science and with the Consortium. You don’t have to be afraid that you won’t be smart enough or that you won’t fit in because all of us are different and the people within these programs are kind and accepting. It’s a learning environment with a lot of people willing to help you and it’s a lot more fun that one may think.
Since the WERM program I’ve been granted other opportunities that have built on my initial science research experience. Through the American Museum of Natural History, I was referred to apply to a job at the Brooklyn Museum. This job really helped me reach into my artsy side and understand how I can leverage art in science. Science and art don’t have to be exclusive and can work really well together. With the Brooklyn Museum I was on a planning committee for an LGBTQ night and I was also chosen to represent the Brooklyn Museum at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art’s National Teen Convening that I’m excited to be part of this month. Additionally, Barry Kogan, the WERM program manager, recommended me to be able to go to a conference to talk about community and environmental issues in Riverdale. A lot of people at this conference were artists so being able to see that and experience the different sides of science and how you can combine the two passions to help others was inspiring.
I’m about to go into my senior year at Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy. In college, I’m hoping to study environmental science. Thanks to the WERM program, I want to be build a STEM career that keeps environmental science and conservation biology in my life. Science is the base of everything. We all live on this earth and if we don’t take care of it and try to help it as much as we can, then we won’t have an earth much longer. It’s important to protect the earth. I definitely envision how art combined with science can impact people. For a lot of people, it can be hard to understand the technicalities of science and that turns them off and makes them apathetic. But art is something that is universal and can be a way to speak to people about important issues to empower them to create change.
I’m grateful that two years ago I took my teacher’s advice and applied to WERM. I’m so grateful for all the people within the program, Barry, Mark Weckel and my mentor Ferdie. Last, but certainly not least, I’m so grateful for my mom. My mom has encouraged me and has been so proud of me and the work I have done. I am so excited to see what the future holds for me in STEM, or maybe more accurately, STEAM!
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