My Experience with STEM

Storyteller: Gabrielle (she/her/hers/they/them), 22, Texas

"My journey through STEM has been anything but easy and predictable. My journey starts with my early youth before attending K-12, where I developed a fascination with anything that breathed. I loved dinosaurs, bugs, animals, and plants, and I spent my afternoons combing through my mother's nursing textbooks remembering every little detail of human anatomy I could. This love for natural life followed me into grade school, but soon I met roadblocks in the form of discrimination. Where I grew up, STEM education wasn't valued. I was the odd person out in my elementary school that primarily catered to the town's upper middle class white children. My brown skin and Brazilian heritage confused my classmates and infuriated my teachers, making me a target of ridicule from peers and teachers alike. My second grade teacher had the most profound effect on me - she sent me in for English as a Second Language testing despite my instance that English was my mother tongue, forced me to stay in at recess and late after school was over to "re-learn" how to hold a pencil, and marked my answers as incorrect on my math homework even when I written the right answer.

Despite this treatment, none of it really got to me until it came time to do our science project. My project was to talk about the state flower and state fruit of the state of Washington. I put together a bright green poster board and excitedly shared information about rhododendrons and apples, only to be cut short and told to sit down. When I got my grade back, I had received a "D" despite all of my work being accurate and well presented. This marked the start of my hatred for the sciences, a hatred that I carried with me until my early adulthood. Where I grew up, there were no science clubs, or afterschool science and math programs, or science fairs. All I learned about science I learned in class with teachers who were often uninterested and bigoted. When I began to struggle with new concepts in science and math in my later education, I refused to seek help. Thinking back to my earlier experiences, I had been left with the impression that the reason why I struggled with science and math was because latinas aren't meant to be smart in science and math. Perhaps I had received a "D" on that project so long ago because all the famous scientists we read about in class were white, and I wasn't, so maybe that meant that I am never supposed to achieve more than "D" on anything STEM related.

I had simply lost all interest in anything related to math or science, or at least I thought. Looking back at my education, you'll see that I only earned an "A" in a science course one time- in my ninth grade biology classes. When I first enrolled in biology at my high school, I enrolled in the standard biology class instructed by our football coach. Despite my lack of effort, my childhood interest in biology shown through and I earned an "A" with a 110% at the end of the semester. My teacher pulled me aside after finals, and told me that he nominated me to be moved into the school's honor classes, and I was shocked. Never once had a teacher believed in my ability to succeed, and never once had a teacher gone out of the way for my STEM education. I was accepted into the honors course with ease, and fell in love with biology all over again. It was this encounter that eventually opened the door for me to fall in love with science all over again, and it was one of the main factors that led me to study neuroscience in college.

Before that encounter, I had little faith in STEM education and educators. I felt unheard and unseen as a latina student, and many of my teachers never cared to address my unique needs as a first-generation American and student. I especially felt this way about my STEM courses, which poorly instructed me in difficult concepts with no regard for the fact that I didn't have parents at home who could help me with my assignments. What changed this for me was just one biology teacher believing in me enough to take a stand for my education, forever altering the path of my experience with STEM education. While a STEM educator had once crushed my love for science, it was only another STEM educator who was able to nurture my love for science back to life.

While a STEM educator had once crushed my love for science, it was only another STEM educator who was able to nurture my love for science back to life.