From Science Fair to Research Symposiums
Sophia (she/her/hers), 23, Pennsylvania
“In 5th grade I completed my first science fair project, a demonstration of diffusion and osmosis using eggs in sugar and salt solutions. Each year after I completed a science fair project in various categories: chemistry, physics, biology, etc. In high school, the science fair provided me with opportunities to learn and practice presenting scientific knowledge, following the scientific method, and performing and developing research methods.
One of my high school projects was testing how different pill coatings impact where and how a medicine is absorbed in the body. I presented this project at the regional, state, and international level. This was the beginning of my journey towards higher education in a STEM field. At the international science fair, I met students from all over the world passionate about and talented in so many STEM fields. It was both overwhelming and eye-opening. I realized I never wanted to work in another field because STEM includes a little bit of everything: creativity, hands-on work and learning, community engagement, and just a little bit of knowledge and talent.
Prior to the international science fair, I hadn’t really met any professionals in the field. The judges at the regional and state level were local volunteers who were not required to have significant science experience. However, at the international fair, the judges were all professors or professionals in each category. I got to meet and learn about different career paths from many of them. Dr. V, who would later become my faculty advisor in college, was one of my judges at the fair. He introduced me to the field of biomedical engineering, and this shaped how I chose my learning opportunities for the remainder of high school.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended a STEM camp hosted by West Virginia University Institute of Technology, where I got to attend a week-long camp with classes in an area of the students’ choice. I picked engineering. It was here I decided I wanted to work at the intersection of engineering, medicine, biology, and public health. Now, I am 2nd year graduate student in environmental science and public health. I completed my bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. I have presented at multiple conferences and symposiums, and each time I present I am reminded of the experiences that got me to that platform, including my participation in so many science fairs during grade school.
STEM education and extracurricular activities have been crucial to my understanding of myself and of the world around me. I don’t think there is any field as versatile and necessary for global well-being as STEM. I especially think the providing opportunities for low-income, rural areas like where I grew up is important. The challenges faced by people in these areas are unique. There are none better to solve these problems than the bright students who come from these areas and want to make change.”