Every year, the students participating in the STEM program (the STEMers) give a presentation about their summer internships and scientific findings in front of a filled Butner Auditorium. Although STEMposium was over two and a half months ago, I still feel as inspired as I did when I walked out the door at the end of the night. The STEM program is a two semester program that straddles the spring and fall semesters of students’ junior and senior year, consisting of a semester of preparation to understand research level science, a summer internship putting those research skills into practice, and another semester of preparation to present what they did over the summer. The program builds public speaking skills, gives the students involved weeks of experience working in a lab, and strengthens the scientific mind.
Probably the most exciting part of their journey were the internships they took part in over the summer, where scientists across the Bay Area (well, mostly in UC Berkeley) took them under their wings and introduced them to some very, very in depth and complicated confusing science. This was a highly demanding experience for these students, as they still had lives to live and homework to do. What they learned and discovered in these internships would become the content of their talks at STEMposium later in the year. In order to give an interesting and engaging talk, each of the STEMers would need to gain a deep understanding of and appreciation for their lab work in the timeframe of five weeks, which is often little more than a blink of an eye in the scientific world. Then, they would need to gather their research and present at the end of the year.
For most people (especially high school students), public speaking is frightening thing especially when your audience consists of seventy people, including strangers and people from your lab. The presentation has to be simplified to be understandable to people who aren’t particularly interested in science. It needs to include almost everything you found, but also necessarily needs to cut part of it out. It’s a very delicate balance game, and the result is a ten minute speech which must be memorized to perfection. A time consuming and daunting task for anyone. However, all of their preparation payed of: STEMposium served as proof that the program had successfully forged eight eloquent speakers and scientists with a deep understanding of their lab’s work.
Each one of them kept the audience’s attention for the entire talk: any doubts they had about their own ability were merely the result of anxiety. Their presentations were honestly amazing. Simon explained how he used cratons and how the rock’s magnetic direction vectors cooled to find out what the Earth looked like billions of years ago. Miles explained his lab’s findings on what genes could cause autism in frog embryos and the process of staining stem cells with a solution to track their movement. Sarab created a new model that can calculate the ground velocity of earthquakes that will help architects and engineers create safer buildings for years to come. I’m writing this with no exaggeration. Their work was done on a professional level, which necessitates nuance and detail in the science. Even though the topics I mentioned above are insanely complex and full of science jargon, the STEMers still communicated their scientific findings successfully, leaving no member of the audience behind as they explained.
The STEMers denied that they fully understood what they were talking about. However, the depth of knowledge displayed in their talks proved otherwise: although his presentation was very understandable and eloquently spoken, when I asked Miles Dyke more about his topic, it felt like I would need to take a few weeks and several notebooks to understand what he was telling me. When I mentioned that to him, I learned that was exactly what they had to do before and during their internships. The STEMers had to work so hard in order to complete this program. They spent a year of their lives working on this, and the result was marvelous, in a way that it could inspire people to learn more about science just by seeing what they had done. To the day I’m writing this, I’m still motivated by what they said.
If you missed STEMposium, you should check it out next year. It really is an amazing experience, and you will learn so much from everyone who will speak. Thank you Aarushi, Justin, Ben, Sarab, Simon, Paulos, Miles, and Mary: what you’ve accomplished is truly amazing. If anyone reading this want to learn more, talk to some of the STEMers from last year – all of them are listed directly above. To those in the program for 2019, good luck. Finally, to Dr. C – thank you for starting the program, and I wish you the best as you watch the program continue to soar.