Today, I got the opportunity to be on a panel whose aim was to encourage around 200 eighth graders on why they should pursue STEM. At first, it was quite overwhelming to see the huge audience, but soon my nervousness faded away as I felt comfortable settling in with dynamics of the space.
Being a part of a panel of four more inspirational people made me reflect back on the time when I was one of those curious faces, sitting in the crowd, trying to get a glimpse into the real world by gathering as much as I could from the experiences of others. I am a junior at the University of Washington, Seattle now and three years is indeed a long time. However, it is moments like these when one realizes how much have they learnt and why what they do, matters.
An important thing that I realized during the course of this session was that in order to inspire anyone else to pursue a degree in STEM, I first needed answer, why I had chosen to pursue a degree in this field. Not surprisingly, this was in fact one of the questions that was brought up by one of the students present there. To answer this, I gave them a brief glimpse into my background. I told them that coming from a family of professors and engineers, my interests were always aligned towards this realm. However, being completely honest, watching “The Social Network”, sealed the deal for me. I was inspired and motivated and wanted to be the person who made cool stuff like that. The idea was to tell them that inspiration can be found anywhere. I enjoy work I do and that alone was enough to convince me that I am on the right track.
But why STEM?
This was my favorite question. Explaining this made me realize the beauty of stem which is that it is the bridge between distinctly diverse fields. You do not necessarily have to be an established coder, a mathematician or a scientist in the field to realize that. Diversity is what makes this realm holistic. The fact is that today a number of artists, musicians, historians, geographers, writers have knowingly or unknowingly become a part of this field. They bring varied perspectives to the field and solve problems for real people. Perhaps that is what the USP of STEM is: touching the lives of people by solving real world problems.
I was mesmerized by the level of maturity and curiosity through the questions brought into light by the students of Cedar Heights Middle School. My mouth was left open when I later got to know that they were 8th graders. I was not expecting a 14 year old asking me, “So why did you chose UW?” or “Which CS courses should I be taking right now to prepare for college?” or “What the curriculum of UW is like?”. I was pleasantly surprised by all these questions and answering them has been one of my best experiences at college. In every face, I could see myself.
Reflecting back on my experience today, I believe it is safe to say that the future of the world is in safe hands. There are a lot of problems in the world but the children I got to meet and talk with today, give me hope. They have got an innovative problem-solving mindset which is what STEM aims at building. I was reassured to see 14 year olds asking the right questions way before the right time. The fact that they were present at an event like this shows that not only are the way ahead in the game but have the right aptitude as well. I wish I could have attended events like this!
“Keep an open mind and explore as much as you could. If something interests you, then do not be afraid to get curious and ask as many questions as you could. Make use of the innumerable resources to learn more about the concepts that interest you.” All these statements summed up the advice that we had for the students.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the College of Engineering, UW and Andrea Chen from the Society of Women Engineers to organize this event and have me as one of the panelists. Such outreach and diversity efforts are imperative to nurture the immense potential that the world has to offer.