After months of preparation and eager anticipation, the finalists for the Eberly College of Science’s I AM STEM student speaking competition gathered in the Berg Auditorium in mid-November for an exciting second round of competition.
All of these finalists had advanced from the first round of competition — in which entrants submitted a 60-second introductory video and a short essay describing the influence of scientist role models in their lives — and had been invited to prepare a five-to-seven-minute “mini keynote” to present to a panel of judges in the final round. The finalists were instructed to draft their keynotes with an audience of middle and high school girls in mind, even though they would be presenting for a panel of faculty and administrators. This is because the first- and second-place winners of I AM STEM serve as keynote speakers for the ENVISION: STEM Career Day Supporting Young Women each spring semester.
This opportunity allows the competition to serve a dual purpose: providing science communication and speaking development opportunities for Eberly students and identifying inspiring keynote speakers for an important outreach event that brings hundreds of youth from throughout Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region to Penn State.
“So many of our Eberly students have amazing stories to share about their passion for science and the journeys they’ve taken with their science careers thus far,” said Jessica Kim-Schmid, director of Eberly’s Office of Science Outreach. “By giving our students the opportunity to share their stories with eager young future scientists, we hope we give our students the confidence to continue influencing and inspiring others throughout their time at Penn State and beyond.”
This year’s I AM STEM competition finalists came from all levels within the Eberly college, ranging from undergraduates to postdoctoral fellows, and from a wide range of disciplines, as well, including astronomy and astrophysics, chemistry, math, and biochemistry and molecular biology. Though the I AM STEM winners in the past have been a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, this year all three of the I AM STEM winners were graduate students!
Albanie Hendrickson-Stives, a chemistry doctoral student, earned third place with the insightful advice that she tied into stories from her own journey in science. Yasha Duggal, also a chemistry doctoral student, earned second place with an appealing presentation that encouraged aspiring scientists — and young women, in particular — to think about how they can incorporate their whole selves and nonscience interests into their science careers. Latisha Franklin, a doctoral student in biochemistry and molecular biology, took home the top prize with her highly relatable story of how her current path was influenced by mentors who urged her to seek out opportunities to engage with science at each level of her education.
“Our judges were so impressed by the finalists’ presentations this year,” said Kim-Schmid. “I can’t wait to see how energized and excited our ENVISION attendees get about their own potential in science when Latisha and Yasha present their keynotes! Seeing our Eberly students make this kind of meaningful impact on others is one of the highlights of ENVISION for my team.”
The ENVISION event will welcome more than 100 middle and high school students from across Pennsylvania to Penn State’s University Park campus on Saturday, February 29, 2020. Along with keynotes from the I AM STEM winners, the day will include hands-on STEM workshops led by more than 70 Penn State volunteers as well as opportunities to meet and make connections with other participants and STEM professionals. The I AM STEM competition will continue in fall 2020 and is open to all undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows in the Eberly College of Science. All students are encouraged to take advantage of this unique opportunity to inspire others with their own science journeys!