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.