Have you ever wondered what it is like to be the President’s Science Advisor or to travel in space? How about designing and building prototypes or finding a way to reduce carbon emissions? On January 28, 2014, 15 scientists gathered in Washington, D.C., to share their experiences with kids at SoSTEM—State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Their goal: to educate kids about the importance of STEM fields and inspire them to pursue a career in STEM.
“Technology opens doors of new opportunities and ways of doing things we may have never have imagined possible,” said Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer, “and you [kids] are the ones who will keep America innovating for discoveries we can’t even dream of today and towards solutions to the world’s most important problems.”
What is SoSTEM?
SoSTEM, an annual event begun last year, gives kids the chance to question those in charge of science and technology as well as to talk to the special guests who sat in the First Lady’s Box at the President’s State of the Union address, delivered the night before. This year, the topics ranged from robotics to solar energy to marshmallow cannons. Panelists even covered ways to incorporate the movie Gravity into science lessons.
Among the guest panelists at SoSTEM 2014 were Dr. John P. Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor; Joey Hudy, “Maker” and Inventor; Tyrone Davis, Environmental Advocate; Joe Acaba, NASA Astronaut; the 2013 NASA Astronaut Class; and other prominent figures in science. I had the opportunity to speak with some of the guests before the panel and ask them about their STEM careers, their plans for the future, and their advice for kids.
Advice from an Astronaut
Joe Acaba remembers developing an interest in space as a young child. “It was probably when I was a little kid, and my grandfather would show me the old film of the Apollo missions to watch the astronauts walking on the moon, so that was pretty cool,” Acaba told TFK. “I always loved to read science fiction books, so I always thought about going to different planets, and that kind of sparked my interest and made me want to become an astronaut someday.”
In 2004, Acaba began working for NASA and his dream of being an astronaut came true. During his NASA career, Acaba visited space twice—first on the space shuttle Discovery in 2009 and then on the International Space Station in 2012, logging a total of 138 days in space.
Over the years, Acaba has received a lot of guidance that has helped him in his career. But he credits his success to his parents’ words of wisdom. “The biggest piece of advice I’ve received is from my parents, and it’s one I try to share with people. It is that your education is the most important thing you can do. It doesn’t matter what you study, but the more education you have, the more opportunities you’ll get. So I think that if you study hard and take advantage of those opportunities, good things will happen.”
An Inspiring Environmental Advocate
Tyrone Davis has been legally blind since the age of 9, but that hasn’t stopped him from reaching his goals. In high school, he ran track and cross-country, and he went on to graduate from North Carolina State University with a degree in political science. But perhaps his most noteworthy accomplishment was his work with Elizabeth City State University, in North Carolina: he showed the school how to save $31,000 per year by reducing its carbon emissions by 200 tons. Still, Davis doesn’t want to stop there. In fact, he has gone back to school once again to earn a degree in law and already has plans for after graduation.
“I hope to pursue a career in environmental law and environmental policy,” Davis told TFK. “I want to continue to address environmental issues in a common sense type of way and in a problem-solving type of way, trying to figure out ways to solve our nation’s and our world’s issues in a balanced approach.”
At SoSTEM, Davis wanted not only to share his experience in a STEM field, but he also wanted to share one life-changing lesson he learned from his past: the importance of perseverance.
“Never give up on something that you want to do,” Davis said. “Set goals for yourself. There may be roadblocks in your way, but try to find a way to get around those roadblocks so that you can accomplish your goal. Always evaluate where you are so that you know where you have to go, how far you have to go, and who you have to talk to to achieve those goals.”
Later in the panel, NASA Astronaut Anne McClain added to Davis’s remark. “The biggest thing you can do is believe in yourself. And that’s not gender-specific or background-specific. If you believe that you can do it, and you continue to raise your hand to go towards your goals, then you’re going to get there. Keep moving forward. Don’t self-eliminate yourself before you try.”
TFK Kid Reporter Grace Clark also reported from SoSTEM. Check back Friday to read about her experience.