Gabriela’s Story: Not Your Average Scientist. Not Your Average High School Student.

I’ve always been interested in science. Similarly, after watching many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, I was convinced I wanted to become a doctor. Science has always been one of my interests because it’s very hands on and abstract. I love the idea of not knowing something and then trying to find the answer. I applied to BRAINYAC in hopes of better understanding what the medical field was like. I was excited when I was accepted and began my BRAINYAC experience in my sophomore year of high school.

When I started at the Joshua A. Gordon Lab, I was a mess. As any sophomore entering a lab full of experts would be, I was scared. I was worried I would not thrive in the professional, jargon-filled, mentally challenging environment that is a neuroscience research lab. In the beginning it was these worries that prevented me from being proactive, asking questions and ultimately getting the most out of the experience.

However, as time progressed, and as I began getting to know my mentor and coworkers, I quickly grew out of that. In doing so, I learned that science is not about knowing everything. Instead, it is everything about knowing nothing.

My mentor, Alexander Harris, taught me a key lesson: to be okay with baby steps. In other words, be patient and don’t get discouraged when you don’t immediately find the cure for cancer, or discover a new element. Science is about failing as much as it is about succeeding.

A successful scientist takes an idea, mixes it with some curiosity and adds a pinch of determination to gain the information that they know they don’t yet possess.

My research project was analyzing the neural mechanisms underlying how stress hijacks the reward system. We were essentially trying to better understand the links between stress and depression by looking at two main parts of a mouse’s reward system (Ventral Tegmental Area and the Nucleus Accumbens) after it had undergone stress.

Now I feel confident not only in explaining my research, but also in asking questions and accepting the fact that I don’t and can’t know everything. This newfound confidence has transcended into my everyday life, allowing me to better communicate with others and making me more willing to share my ideas.

My experience with BRAINYAC has not carved a clear path for my future, but it has opened me up to the possibilities my future possesses. I am passionate about writing, photography, and drawing. I also love studying human rights issues and I love to travel. I may or may not major in Neuroscience. I may or may not spend my life counting cells on a computer. I hope to study public health in college. Whatever I end up pursuing, I can say that there is something very satisfying about discovering something new. This is probably why I’m returning to the lab this summer. I am going to continue my research from last summer and I am also working on a new project.

As I head into my senior year of high school this fall I know that whether it be in neuroscience or not, I will continue to feed my curiosity. And thanks to BRAINYAC, I will always be a scientist.

Abdul’s Story: Using Science to Understand Ourselves

As a young African American, my exposure to the STEM field came much later on in my life. Growing up in Gambia, West Africa, there were limited educational resources. Often multiple kids had to share one textbook. So there was a lot of emphasis on just reading, writing and math.  

However, when I moved to the United States to New York when I was ten years old, a whole new world opened up for me academically. Teachers gave me more individualized attention and empowered me to fully realize my potential as a student.

 The Lang Youth Medical Program, a six-year science intensive medical program, fostered my interest in science and from there I knew I wanted to be involved in the health field. As early as the 8th grade, I was already witnessing heart surgeries, performing dissections and had a full understanding of all the human body systems. Simply knowing how complex the human body was intrigued me. Through this experience I began to envision a future career in health for myself.

In the tenth grade, a mentor from the Brain Research Apprenticeships in New York at Columbia (BRAINYAC) program visited the Lang Youth Program to discuss a neuroscience research internship opportunity. At first, I was a little hesitant about applying given that I knew very little about the brain. However, I knew it was an amazing opportunity to further my knowledge in science so I submitted an application. I was admitted into the program and began an intensive science course to help me get familiar with neuroscience knowledge and terms that the scientists use daily in the lab. Though the material was challenging, once I was in the lab I was able to gain hands-on experience that expanded my expertise and made my overall research experience more enjoyable.

On the first day of my internship, I walked into an extremely cold room with a flood of lab equipment that contained a number of chemicals. I felt as if I was in one of those sci-fi movies because I was literally being exposed to science that had not reached the public yet. The lab I was placed in specialized in Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease specifically focusing on the hormone dopamine.

 My favorite part of the experience, though it may sound odd, was slicing the mouse brain with equipment called the cryostat. A cryostat is a device utilized by neuroscience researchers to finely slice mice brains. The slicing process very important in that it’s the first step of the staining process, which allows researchers to take a deeper look into the parts of the brain. This takes a lot of focus and precision as it is essential for obtaining optimum data.

 The lab experience made me realize that they are so many unknown phenomena to us humans, but with the help of science we can get a step closer to understanding ourselves and the universe around us. 

Though I aspire to become a physical therapist in the future given my growing passion for fitness and helping others, I also plan on doing research in exercise science. We live in a world where obesity rates are soaring high and I want to play a part in decreasing those levels and help people attain healthy lifestyles. The fact that I could discover something and present this research with the public to improve lives, I find extremely empowering. This fall I start my freshman year at SUNY Oneonta and I know obtaining a Human Biology Degree and Minor in Exercise Science will get me a step closer in achieving my goals.

Jose’s Story: Leading the Future as the First of Many

I grew up in a rural area in the Dominican Republic where there were not many doctors, let alone scientists. From a young age, I was interested in science. When I was a little boy I always wanted to do science experiments. I loved playing in the dirt. Due to the rural environment, there were not a lot of resources like video games for example. So I had to manage my interests by being creative.

I moved to New York City with my family when I was twelve years old. From there we lived in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan. Not long after moving to the city, my father passed away. So my mother became a single mom who had to care for me and my younger brother Simon. I admire my mom because it took a lot of work to care for us. She is a great and strong person who continues to inspire me. My mom gives us the best gift of all: emotional support. This support means the world to Simon and me. It drives us to do better, to have a future and to never give up.

One day I was bored so I Googled “science stuff to do” and I found the Urban Barcode Research Program run by the DNA Learning Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. I reached out and learned more about the program. So I applied and was excited when I was accepted. I had always wanted to do something in the science field, but I didn’t know what my options were. I did not know about science research until I joined the Urban Barcode Research Program. So this was my first time doing DNA science and Genome science. My interest in science grew from this program. It was such a profound experience that it is hard to put it in words.

 My research project studied the beetle larvae’s guts or more specifically the yeasts or unicellular fungi inside their guts. We collected 11 beetles’ larvae and dissected them to analyze the stomach gut. We were able to determine the sequences of genes that were inside the beetles’ larvae guts. We took the DNA that we extracted and sent it to a lab. After we got the lab results, we sequenced this DNA and then uploaded it into a website database that had many sample sequences. Since this database had so many samples and not one of them matched our 11 DNA samples, we realized that our findings were possibly novel sequences of new species of yeast. Further research still needs to be done to confirm that these sequences belong to new species. 

The most memorable experience was going to Inwood Hill Park to collect the beetle larvae. Even though I lived nearby, I had never visited this park before. I was starting to see the world around me in a different light.

It was an amazing experience because I was learning through the research process. I was learning how to write scientific reports, running lab tests, doing PCR and more. Me doing this? I could hardly believe it. As a little kid, I never imagined that I would be doing science research. 

The research process was tough though. I learned that things do not always work out as planned. In science you have to improvise and make changes. It takes perseverance. 

My mentor, Jhunior Morillo, supported me through this process. He taught me how to be precise, about lab safety and how to present my research and myself in the best light. I learned so much from this experience. I learned how to conduct scientific research and that’s not something everyone my age can say. To be able to say I got results out of my research is extraordinary.

 As a young kid I thought I might grow up to be a taxi driver or an apartment superintendent or something that did not require a degree. Yet, now I am in college and achieving great things at a competitive level. I have a high GPA. I see myself as a scientist and as someone who could become a doctor. I can envision my future doing research while in medical school and I can see the day when I get my PhD.  

I realized that science was an option for me when I was in the Urban Barcode Research Program by being surrounded by others who inspired me. They had this mindset of building others up. I saw others that were like me, who were doing science research and who were successful. I realized that this too can be me.

 Being part of the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium means a lot to me. I get to learn a lot about networking and listening to other perspectives that may differ from my own. There are so many opportunities we get access to. Through the Consortium’s programs, we are able to gain experiences that give us a depth of understanding about the world around us.

I am the first of many in my family. I am the first person in my family to graduate high school. I am the first to go to college. I am a proud first generation college student. This is a big deal. It’s a huge achievement. This program gave me the foundation that I needed for my career and it has motivated me to pursue research. 

Something else I am really proud of is being a role model to my little brother Simon who is a rising high school junior. I have been able to help him navigate this complex education system. I noticed that he was doing well in school, but he was still a bit lost. I knew he could really take his education to another level. When he saw me doing my research he asked me how he could get involved. So I coached him on applying to another program in the Consortium, the American Museum of Natural History’s Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP). He was accepted for this summer and he is so excited and happy about it! Now we are a family of scientists.

I am a rising sophomore at Lehman College. I have spent this summer working a number of jobs, one of which is interning in a hospital. I’m currently undecided about my college major. However, I know that I want to pursue pre-med and a career and academics in STEM. Some options I am considering are bio-chemistry or biology and I definitely plan to minor in computer science and public health. I know that I will continue my education until I receive my PhD so I can achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. Having this foundation in STEM is important because it gives me the skills I need to succeed. Science is the only thing that gives me the feeling of being completely happy and whole.

My message is for others to never give up and to always be determined. Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve something because of your grades, your ethnicity or for any reason. Sometimes a person may think it is too late, but it is never too late to take action to pursue your dreams. Let your passion drive you. Listen to yourself. Believe in yourself.

Tatyana’s Story: Combining Passions for Social Change Through STEM

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 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. I was a different person than I was at the beginning of it all. I was able to look back and reflect on how the program changed my life, my perspective 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 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!

Arif’s Story: Science Helps Humanity

I was born in Brooklyn, NY and then moved to Bangladesh for the first four years of my life. I came back to the United States not knowing English which I learned as I pursued my education here.

When I was a young kid, I always thought I would grow up and be a power ranger. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Instead my interests evolved and now include medicine and research. I didn’t always want to do medicine. It was through exposure that I had that gradually inspired me to do medicine. Also, I have always been really interested in technology. 

Throughout my life my mom and dad have always been huge sources of inspiration for me. My mom was originally a doctor in Bangladesh but when you come to the U.S., you couldn’t  practice medicine without a United States Medical License. So I watched my mom study and persevere for an additional six years, in order to become an attending physician at a U.S. hospital.  She studied and passed all the steps of the United States Medical Licensing Exam with top marks. Many immigrant physicians don’t get into their residences because they are international students. But my mom was able to get into her residency program at The Brooklyn Hospital Center.. In witnessing my mom’s dedication to the medical profession and her perseverance through all the difficulties that she overcame to become a physician, I asked her why she went through all of this and what motivated her. She explained to me, “We are very compassionate people. My job involves directly helping people.” That is when I knew I wanted to also dedicate my life to medicine. 

The summer after my junior year of high school, I knew college was on the horizon and that I needed to strengthen my college resume. I applied to as many science research internships as I could. I started hearing back and became discouraged when I didn’t get accepted to many of them. But then Hk Maker Lab got back to me and they were really interested. After getting accepted to Hk Maker Lab, it turned out to be an amazing summer. It actually changed the course of what I was interested in. Before the program, I was planning to focus on only medicine and had put my technology interest in the back of my mind. However, the Hk Maker Lab program got me really interested in the intersection between entrepreneurship, biotechnology and medicine. I was able to leverage all my interests within the Hk Maker Lab to pursue a biomedical engineering project. 

The program was absolutely incredible. In fact, so much so that I am so glad I got rejected by those other summer programs. With Hk Maker Lab, I learned about collaboration and the importance of fostering a sense of community. Through our teamwork we worked towards a common goal that could actually help humanity. This was a powerful experience for me. 

The purpose of the Hk Maker Lab program is to introduce young people to biomedical engineering and teach the basics of electronics and the business behind it as well. The program is structured so that each team works on a different project. In order to graduate from the program, teams had to create some sort of biomedical device that would help hospitals in Kampala, Uganda.

Our professor and mentor, Dr. Kyle, had connections with engineers in Uganda. So we would Skype with them, listen to their problems and try to solve these issues with biomedical devices. Many students chose to work on water filtration devices, mosquito netting and stuff like that. Our group decided to pursue a different project.  Our project and researched resolution was to develop solar-powered surgical lighting. Essentially it was a bunch of LEDs on a solar panel. We knew that this had been done before. There are plenty of low-cost lighting solutions, but what we wanted to do was to make the lighting system and then provide the plans to any university in the local area or in Uganda so that they could reproduce these lighting systems themselves. 

The Hk Maker Lab taught me about collaboration, the scientific method and persistence. If you have an idea, it is not going to work out right away. During Hk Maker Lab we consistently had to revise our idea. We’d all get together and try to figure out different ways to accomplish the task at hand. It taught me that science isn’t easy, but it’s worth pursuing because it can have a tremendous impact. The program also taught me the importance of surrounding yourself with people that have more experience than you, who can mentor and guide you. That’s what Dr. Aaron Kyle did for us. 

I am now about to enter my sophomore year at the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College. I’m still figuring out what to major in, but my two main interests are bio-chemistry and economics.  Currently I’m pre-med but I’m also doing science research at NYU School of Medicine’s Miller Lab. The laboratory is studying immune regulators of pancreatic cancer and liver disease. 

Science is difficult, but it’s very fun and rewarding. You might be discouraged at times when experiments or your prototypes are not working, but if you persist and are committed to the goals then you will eventually accomplish it. 

 As an alumni scholar of the Consortium, I think this is an amazing community with a diversity of science programs that collaborate with each other and also introduce us students to one another. I feel great to be a part of something like this. It means I am a part of mentoring and encouraging the scientists of tomorrow. As corny as that sounds, it is true.

Michael’s Story: Discovering and Learning with Passion

I’m a Ghanaian- American and while my parents came from Ghana, I was born and raised in the Bronx. I went to Democracy Prep High School in Harlem. When I was younger I had no idea what I would grow up to be. Coming from an African household, it seemed my options were either to become a doctor or a lawyer. Everything else was too risky.

I had engineering on my mind because I watched this anime called Full Metal Alchemist. I even wrote my college application essay on this! I thought it was risky, but my counselor thought it was creative. The idea in Full Metal Alchemist is people have cool metal-like arms which are prosthetics. The setting is in a world where it seems those prosthetics were inexpensive, as if almost anyone could access them. Just like how common cars are to us in our world. I wanted to live in a world where prosthetics of that caliber were available to everyone. So this show really inspired me to pursue becoming an engineer.

My college counselor, Mr. Yang, really encouraged me to learn about different experiences and opportunities. He told me about a number of colleges that would further my science interests  He also told me about the Hk Maker Lab program with HYPOTHEkids, Harlem Biospace, and Columbia University.Hk Maker Lab broadened my eyes to the world and field of biomedical engineering.

With Hk Maker Lab, my team and I focused our project on trying to create an inexpensive water filter since the prevalence of water borne diseases in the world is a huge issue. We tried to make use of UV filtration through UV rays, but that didn’t really work out because we were trying to use an actual lightbulb but it was difficult to find the right bulb. We were trying to find an LED form but we came to realize that was not available to us as high school students. Likewise, we didn’t know how to make UV bulbs. So instead we created a model for this bulb and water filter. 

Most of the program was spent doing research on the computer or doing experiments in the lab. In order to use UV filtrations, you have to first get rid of the big particles like dirt. So this was a whole process – we had a bunch of water spills so it was messy at times. By the end of the summer I realized we were standing on shaky ground since we did not have an actual prototype, but just a model of what it could become. I realized I really had to sell our model during our research presentation. I just wanted to make sure that when I presented, it would be my best self and best presentation. So I just focused on this goal and sharing the research we had done so far.

Dr. Kyle, the instructor of Hk Maker Lab program, was impressed by how much work and effort I put into the program. He even wrote a teacher’s recommendation for me for my college application. He also connected me with Christine Kovich, the co-founder of Harlem Biospace and HYOPTHEkids, Ms. Kovich has been so helpful in life. She introduced me to opportunities to speak to younger students in the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium. She introduced me to another science program that I worked in last year during my first year of college. It was really beneficial to get that professional experience.

My experience with Hk Maker Lab also prepared me for life after high school. I knew the lab experience I was getting high school was nowhere in comparison to what I would experience at the college level. So the program introduced me to this. The other element the program prepared me for was building relationships with people who were different than me. The people I met through Hk Maker Lab were really interesting. Up until high school, I went to schools or lived in neighborhoods where Black or Latino students were the majority. This was the first time I met people from different backgrounds and different high schools. It was fun hanging out with them. Sometimes I would even play soccer with Arif and his friends which was fun. 

Being part of the Consortium is a great opportunity to find people with similar interests and passions for science as your own. It is a friendly environment so it is easy to talk with one another. You also get free tickets to the museum so that’s pretty cool! In a way the Consortium prepares young people for this similar experience in college which is a great thing. 

I’m now a rising college sophomore at Emory University. I’m currently undeclared for a major, but I am considering the pre-dentistry track. In all honesty though, I’m still thinking about biomedical engineering. Those are the main two interests of mine. I don’t know what the future holds. It could be anything right now. Whatever it ends up being though, it’s going to follow science heavily no matter what.

I want the younger generation to know that science is cool. What is most important in life is to be passionate. If you find something you like, be passionate about it. I know a lot of times when I personally was pursuing my passions for science, I had people on the sidelines saying “Man, you’re corny for that.” I would just say “Nah, I’m okay.” I didn’t let that or anyone stop me from being myself and pursuing my passion for science. So my advice to everyone is to ignore doubters. Surround yourself with positive people, because if you surround yourself with negative people you’ll end up giving up on your passions and yourself.

Ameena’s Story: Science Helps Humanity

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 extracurricular activities like track, lacrosse, softball and so on. 

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.  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 and 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. 

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

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 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’m still 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.

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.

Itunu’s Story: Science is Magic

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 everyday 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. 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 Initiative for Sustainability and Equity’s (RISE) Shore Corps program to help give back. Then in my sophomore year of high school, RISE 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 have always loved trying new things 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.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.

Leila’s Story: Science Answers My Questions About the World Around Me

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 encountered. . 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 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 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, 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 advanced courses in math and science. 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? Could it be solved with better irrigation and drainage 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 from 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.

© 2024 NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium | All rights reserved
Designed by [L]earned Media.

© 2024 NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium

All rights reserved

Designed by [L]earned Media.