STEM Interest: How Can I Help?

I have wanted to write something for quite a while but have not had the proper inspiration (or motivation). When in doubt, go with your recurring thoughts. For me, this includes interest in the STEM fields locally or globally via the internet.

 

I recently did a search for local STEM organizations that I could volunteer my time or efforts. Knoxville, however, is not really considered a STEM-Mecca. Actually, I did not find a single NPO focusing on science. This was not a huge shock, but it was a huge disappointment. I know I am not the only Ph.D.-strapped person in the area who could potentially help spread science literacy or interests.

 

In graduate school, my major professor did talks at local middle schools that we gladly went to so these students could see what an actual scientist looked like. We were an eclectic bunch just like the science community itself. We could tell the students enjoyed and appreciated our visits, and hopefully some of them will pursue a career in a STEM field. I now try to fuel interest in my own undergraduate classroom for my students. I’m not satisfied with my current reach and would love the opportunity to expand it. The best way to a future with progress and prosperity is through a logical and literate society.

 

I do my little blog with my little graphics and illustrations. What else can I do? I need to channel my passions for spreading the science in a focused and steady way. So, I need your help: help me help others.

Technology Education for Students Is Essential in Creating a Future STEM Workforce, and It Starts With Educating Teachers | Felix W. Ortiz III

This truly is a growing concern and rightly so:

Technology Education for Students Is Essential in Creating a Future STEM Workforce, and It Starts With Educating Teachers | Felix W. Ortiz III.

Graduate School Does Not Prepare Students to Teach Effectively

Graduate School is Great

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed most of my experience while in graduate school working towards my Ph.D. I was paid to fuel my personal curiosities about how bacteria make choices. It was a win-win in my opinion. I was contributing to the overall knowledge of the scientific community and making connections that I never would have dreamed of years before. I could safely say no one on the planet was investigating the same phenomena I was, so I held knowledge only I knew. Pretty amazing feeling. I read some article in Science Careers long ago about advice for graduate students. One nugget was that the student needed to become the expert of their project, not their advisor. I tried to make that my goal and knew I was succeeding when my advisor would ask my advice about observations she was making in the lab.

Graduate School is Good

Don’t get me wrong. Graduate school was not all a field of lilies. It was hard, very hard. Blazing trails and keeping up with all the latest research from around the world about my topic was daunting. Then, there was the preliminary exam (aka qualifying exam); six weeks of taking on an entirely different topic, becoming an expert, devising experiments to answer research questions, writing a full grant proposal, presenting to the department, and defending your ideas for hours is not for the faint of heart. However, the prelim (I had to go through twice) is like being thrown into the ocean as an infant and told to swim the English Channel. If you make it, you are a much better scientist for it. It was HARD, but I don’t regret all the effort it took.

Graduate School is O.K.

Working in the lab can be very time consuming. Many lab bosses expect the grad students to be in the lab 60 to 80 hours a week. I should have been in the lab more, I admit, but I also had a wife and a daughter the last couple years. I had a lot of expectations of me not only as a student and a training scientist but also as a husband and father. Only one of these four expectations was I an expert at after 25 years of schooling. Being spread so thin made each facet that much harder. Needless to say, my wife (and daughter, and in-laws, and parents, and brother, and the rest of the family, and friends, etc.) were very excited when I finally saw the fruits of my indentured labor.

Graduate School is Absolutely Horrible

Don’t get me wrong. I had opportunities to ‘teach’ students during graduate school. I taught a few semesters of lower-level biology lab sections early on. I enjoyed trying to make connections for the students. I remembered when it all came together for me and the light clicked. I wanted that so badly for my students; and much earlier in their academic career.

Now I am out of school with a degree I am very proud of. At what point in graduate school was I supposed to become an expert teacher? Much emphasis is towards shaping an independent scientist who can survive in the jungle, and rightly so. But, what about an emphasis on one of the tenets that come with many job descriptions those fledgling scientists would eventually end up with: instructing? No courses, no seminars. Am I missing something? Is the arena of instructing young minds preparing them for the future jobs we need them to take and excel at not important?

I am very fortunate. I have a faculty position now. I am an expert…but not at what I am expected to do, teach. I am a novice, an infant trying to very quickly consume as much information in teaching strategies and instructing styles that I feel I should have been exposed to in school. Do the science departments and education departments of our colleges and universities know of each other’s existence and absolute need for integration?

I want to be the best instructor ever. I want my students to get it every lecture/class meeting. I want them to appreciate the world around them and make logical decisions. Is that too much to ask? It is for the current state of a majority of graduate schools.

 

Academia as an Unwieldy Vortex

Vortex of Academia

 The safety of academia

In the fall of 2012, I left the comfortableness of the lab in which I had been nestled for 6 years. It was an exciting and terrifying time. I was not going the normal tract for a new Ph.D.; a post-doctoral fellowship. Are we not steered towards a career in academia? I was warned by several professors to make my choice wisely (and for good reason). My wife and I had a life in my town and the thought of uprooting for two to 8 years did not sound appealing. I was very fortunate to take a position as a science writer helping a federal department’s program in biological and environmental research. It was new territory for me, but I knew the opportunity was too great to pass up.

Exactly one year later, I found myself out of work due to reduction in force. I had never gone through such a thing. Those words when they were spoken to me gave me a sort of out-of-body experience, a nightmare really. It took weeks for me to come to grips fully of the immense toll it would take on my family.

Back to the applicant pool

Being a Ph.D. in a mid-sized market is a daunting thing. It seemed as if I was over-qualified or in the running with about 50 other sorry Ph.D.s for each position in which I applied. One part-time position became available as I was hitting the unemployment line as an adjunct professor at a local college. I was teaching ‘Health Science Research’. A great and appealing position if I knew exactly what health science research was. My wife was not as thrilled as I in this opportunity. Who knows, I could land a full-time position soon, I thought. I gladly took the position and kept searching for something permanent and life-sustaining. By early 2014, I had found a hand full of part-time spots to keep us afloat. I was looking several times a day at career sites and every other job portal for the biggest employers in the region. My search had grown to opportunities an hour a way from home. Academia, industry, government; it did not matter to me. I had mouths to feed.

Oh boy, what luck, er tragedy

My adjunct employer asked me to teach additional courses in the summer. However, this schedule overlapped with my wife going back to her position as an elementary school teacher. This meant we would have to pay childcare for a newborn. In other words, we would have to pay the equivalent of another small mortgage monthly for me to work. A catch 22 if ever there was one, but my boss knew my incredible urge to be taken on full-time.

A few weeks after regretfully declining the offer, I received an email on a Sunday morning from my adjunct boss. A faculty member in the Science Department was on life support after a ruptured aneurysm. I was asked to step in (in the middle of the quarter) and teach three additional classes starting the next day. I had no choice but to accept out of respect and duty. The next morning, I found out the faculty member passed away. I couldn’t be happy for my good fortune. How could I? His mother had lost her husband and son within 6 weeks time.

So, here I am stepping into a full-time role with two mid-term exams and a quiz my first week to prepare; not to mention hours of lectures to prepare with no slides to reference from previous quarters. I have not, and will not, complain about my circumstance. I think of his mother and sisters often.

Home Sweet Home

18 months after leaving the world of academia, I find myself thrown back into a forceful vortex. No time to stop and think about ivory walls or effective pedagogy. I’m treading the academic waters for a few more weeks. Going one lecture/class at a time trying to give the students my best efforts, for their sake. Don’t get me wrong, I want to become increasingly effective at teaching my students and getting them curious in biology. Just let me turn in final grades for this quarter first.

My Journey into Science: Participation to Passion

I’ve always loved science. I even love the word. Those aptitude tests we all take in school also knew I loved the natural sciences. In high school, Biology came easy for me, and I took it all in (thank you, Mrs. Hill). It continued into my community college experience in Biology for Majors (thanks, Dr. Fleming). Then came my time at a big university where I even retook biology classes as electives because I loved the subject matter (thanks, Dr. Schwartz). As a pre-med, I was expected to take a lot of life science course work, and I gladly did. Then came Biochem, the upper-level weed-out class. I was young and immature so, needless to say, I did not take it too seriously. It showed in my grade.

At this time, science classes were still a set of facts needed to be memorized for the upcoming exam. No way to approach a life-long passion. The life sciences came easy and all the textbooks over the years made it seem easy. The textbooks laid out the facts in front of me; plain and simple. If I had a question, the answer was right there (after a gaze at the index pages). Biochem became my nemesis. I loved it, but it did not return the favor.

Then, it hit me (thanks, Dr. Koontz). These are not static facts. Everything is connected creating a mesh of life sustaining processes. The revelations did not stop there, however. I was fortunate enough to win a summer internship at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory working on hydrogen evolution from spinach photosystem I. This was my first lab experience…ever. The notion of science being easy and quick went out the window soon after beginning. Science, real science, was hard and time-consuming. Science was frustration and troubleshooting, and I loved it.

The only way to truly understand the essence of what science is and how discoveries are made is by performing the work necessary to obtain new knowledge. The discovery timeline needs to be emphasized in science classrooms. Discovery and innovation are not immediate. Hard work and perseverance are vital. I would love to start a page at Sci of Relief entitled Science Timelines. The truth is much more astounding than the myth of science being a series of Eureka! moments.

Mother Nature’s Chuckle: The Language of the Universe is not English

Miraculous opportunity for self-reflection.

 

There it is. Our home. To us it seems like such a huge place where we will never meet all our neighbors. A place where we live our daily lives consumed with news and opinions from all directions. We work. We play. We do silly stuff like fight wars or think we are the best at this sport or that.

Now look at the picture. Could you spot ‘us’ without the circle? As the dominant species on our planet, we think we are on top. We can explore our Moon. We can travel to our neighbor planet with robots. It is said the human brain is the most complex piece of matter in the known universe.

All Mother Nature can do is chuckle.

As the above image easily shows, it is all about perspective. Our grandeur is self-inflated. Despite the best efforts and actions of us on Earth, Mother Nature will always have the upper hand. She gives us room to explore. She allows us to make strides, great and small. But inevitably, she always reminds us we can not walk confidently on our journey. Stellar threats are all around; invisible until the time of their death in our black or blue sky. Prehistoric mass extinctions to modern day injuries and destruction in Russia last year.

Mother Nature does not speak any of our earthly language. She only speaks the language of the universe. The language we wish to learn through our research and study. The language we long to understand for it will tell us our true history…from the beginning.

On this International Women’s Day, remember, we are all very important to ourselves. However, our great Mother still laughs at us.

 

 

 

Purple and Nine: Helping Encourage Teen Girls Into STEM Fields

I will let the creators tell you their story. If you would like to contribute, please click here.

What am I doing here?

Welcome to Indiegogo, if this is your first time. We are raising money to get a series of 12 Purple and Nine, a web series designed to be FUN and to get girls excited about technology. You can see the pilot here, on our Gallery page. Just click the Gallery tab if you haven’t seen the pilot.
We’re asking you to help us do a whole series of 12 because, honestly, we can’t afford to do that on our own. We aren’t a big-budget studio. We are just two ladies who are sick of what’s on TV. Like you, apparently. I mean, you are visiting here because you think Purple and Nine is better for your kids than what they’ve been watching on TV, right?
We wanted to maintain great content. We felt the best way was to ask the public to vote for Purple and Nine by chucking in the price of a movie ticket. Is that too much to ask?

About Purple and Nine

Purple and Nine is a web series cartoon about two girls who solve their problems through technology. We are planning 12 webisodes of 5-minutes each, and in each episode the girls have hilarious adventures with technology.

We want girls to dream big, and the way to do that is to show them examples they relate to. Purple and Nine are girls who enjoy tech, but also like fuzzy animals, music, and cool jewelry. Well, at least Purple does. Nine doesn’t care so much about what she wears or what people think of her. She just wants to save the world, and she’s glad Purple is her best friend, because Purple is good at inventing things.

Purple and Nine

  • Shows technology as a means to solve problems, from a personal scale (fix a broken toy) all the way up to a global scale (clean energy).
  • Features multi-faceted characters who are great role models for our children.
  • Doesn’t have evil villains. We have enough problems in the world to write fantastic plots without evil villains who must be conquered through violence.
  • Is fun and funny and entertaining (not edutainment!).
  • Illustrates that there are many forms of self-expression for girls and women.

In every episode the girls try to solve problems, like helping a classmate who keeps falling asleep in class, helping kids in distant villages get electricity using solar power, etc. They deal with both local and global issues, using a variety of technologies. The episodes are fun, and involve a whole lot of trial and error — to prepare our kids for the reality that most of what we try isn’t successful the first time. All the featured inventions either exist or are in development, and all of the plot twists are funny and unexpected. In fact, quite a lot of the inventions are funny and unexpected in and of themselves. I mean, it is pretty funny to zap your friend awake in class whenever his breathing rate slows. Isn’t it? The friend didn’t think so, and Purple and Nine had to find a better solution.

 

The inspiration came because the founders, Rebecca and Miriam, wanted to encourage more women to become high-tech entrepreneurs, like themselves. But to do that, we had to inspire girls at a young age. The role models on TV fall short.

Making animation is expensive!

Why do all the movies and shows have the same plot? Because it’s expensive and the big studios only want to bet on a “sure thing”. To make something creative like Purple and Nine is “risky” for them, but easy for us. I mean, if you help us by donating, it will be easy. That’s because we’ll be beholden to you, our sponsors, not to advertisers who want to sell beauty products or pink accessories.

  • Each episode costs about $12K in out-of pocket expenses.
  • At $250K we’ll be able to make an app that will allow kids to submit their own content and play with the characters.
  • With enough backers, we will show the big studios there is an audience!
  • We have great prizes including original artwork from the series, and even a 3D printed model of the Ferret from the series!
  • We love Nine, so all of our prizes are multiples of 9. You can contribute any amount you like, though, starting at a dollar.

 

 

 

The Impact

By contributing, you will be ensuring our children have access to great content that expands their career choices and piques their curiosity.

  • More girls in STEM means more people working on problems like cures for diseases, awesome apps, clean energy, food technologies, and preservation of our earth.
  • Your support sends a message to the media: We want healthy images of girls and women in the media. Even if you don’t contribute money, watching the the video and sharing it with friends sends a message to the media that we want quality.
  • We are building a community for girls and women in tech and entrepreneurship. Join us..

 

 

Seriously, you’re asking me to give you money for your business?

Yeah, I know it sounds lame. We couldn’t come up with anything better than “ask people to pay for great videos”, at least at the beginning. We aren’t using the money for our salaries. We’re using the money for the production costs. We hope it will be a business, but we aren’t expecting that to happen for at least a year. Until then, we are hoping for your help.

Other Ways You Can Help

Spread the word!

  • Watch the pilot episode of Purple and Nine!
  • Send it to anyone with girls (and boys) who would enjoy the video!
  • Share it on your social networks! Remember, we have Spanish and Chinese dubbed versions, so spread the word worldwide.
  • Write about it on your blog!
  • Use the Indiegogo share tools!

 

 

It Doesn’t Add Up!

How are we going to make 12 episodes on $50,000? We aren’t. If a million girls view Purple and Nine, we believe that we’ll be able to find corporate sponsorship or other organizations to get involved. If we raise only $50,000, we can promise only 5 episodes. That’s why our stretch goal is $100,000 for the whole season. Beyond that, some of us can make Gangly Sister our full-time jobs.

Thank you!