‘I hated, hated science’ until STEM NOLA

STEM NOLA participants experiment with dissection in Baton Rouge

When Jaelyn Carr begins her freshman year at Boston University in the fall, the 17-year-old will major in neuroscience.  It’s been quite an evolution for the young scholar, who a few years ago, despised the mere thought of science.

“I hated, hated science,” she said. “I thought, ‘This just doesn’t make sense to me.’ I thought it was so stupid. Why does anyone need to learn this?”

Then came the transformation.

In eighth grade, Carr’s worldview and aspirations changed after attending a workshop sponsored by STEM NOLA, the New Orleans-based non-profit focusing on STEM education. STEM NOLA’s hands-on teaching and activities empower k-12 students to learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through their own intuitions and actions. 

The workshop Carr attended presented biology “in a very digestible way. It made me feel I could do it and really piqued an interest in the sciences.”

The teenager said she went from hating science to adopting a career ambition to “figuring out what makes the brain work.”  Her STEM NOLA experience triggered the change.

During her experience, Carr completed a dissection where several college assistants were “sounding boards for the students.”  

Carr

“I was able to ask questions–lots of them–and the college student next to me would answer them. They had an answer for everything that popped into my mind. They made me realize that it’s not whether you’re good at science. It’s whether you are interested enough to take the time to learn it.”

After attending that workshop, she was determined to excel in science and become a neuroscientist.

The next year, when she attended high school, Carr called one of her STEM NOLA instructors to discuss how to survive physics. They reminded her that learning a difficult science was not a measure of her intelligence.  It was an opportunity for her to take the initiative to explore the rules of science on her own.

She said she recognizes how different things could have been if her eyes hadn’t been opened to the wonderful world of science and biology.  “I literally would not be where I am today,” she said. “I probably would’ve done something in English. I’ve always been good at English, but I wanted to challenge myself.  That’s what I will get opportunities to continue to do.”

Outside of studying science, Carr plays the piano, enjoys photography and reads topics like quantum physics. She does yoga, likes to write, and enjoys caring for plants.

“I’ve had a lot of family members to be affected by Alzheimer’s, depression, and anxiety,” she said.  “I think that neuroscience is like the perfect mix between psychology, which was one of my first loves, and biology. It makes the most sense to me. It makes me feel like I will have the ability to make a difference.”

Along with her mentors at STEM NOLA, Carr has plenty of support at home. Her father is a lawyer and her mother’s organization advocates for reproductive justice. “My parents are happy for me and proud of me. They see that I have a passion for what I want to do.  This really feels like the way that I can help change the world,” Carr said.

Calvin Mackie, Ph.D

In 2014, Calvin Mackie Ph.D, a former tenured Tulane engineering professor, founded STEM NOLA to “inform, inspire and engage communities in learning STEM.” It is an award-winning program that has amassed millions of dollars in support to provide science-based activities, events, and virtual learning.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization specialized in hosting events and bringing STEM experiences to urban neighborhoods. It has transformed to include virtual sessions.  

Over the past seven years, STEM NOLA has engaged more than 70,000 K to 12 students, 17,000 families and 2,150 schools across the country and in four countries. The program is continuing to expand to new locations across the country which led Mackie to expand into the parent organization STEM Global Action.

ONLINE: http://www.stemnola.com

This article first appeared as Jaelyn Carr’s Dream to Become a Neuroscientist was Born at STEM NOLA at STEM Global Action.

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