For people who are interested in STEM, there are a variety of jobs and experiences you can have. For me, an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech, I think I have an interesting job that goes along with my coursework and other activities. Since it’s a pretty unique position, I thought I’d share my experiences and reflections.
First, I mentioned in the title that I work as a STEM program’s planning assistant. Specifically, I work for the Explore Living Learning Community (LLC) at Georgia Tech, a program for first years where students live together, take similar classes, and get involved in activities hosted by the LLC. These activities include educational events and social opportunities, which are planned and hosted by student assistants who are Tech students too! This LLC focuses on pre-health and research, and most of our students are STEM majors.
I’ve had this position for two semesters now, and I’ve found it a great opportunity to combine my love of STEM with science communication. Paying close attention to what students are interested in then creating engaging and useful events requires STEM knowledge, familiarity with STEM students, and plenty of soft skills that aren’t typically trained as part of a science education. But, they have wide applicability. For instance, you can imagine any of these skills coming in handy whether you’re a scientist applying for a grant or an engineer trying to sell your new invention:
- Event planning
- Communication skills with clients, coworkers, and superiors
- Marketing knowhow
In addition to these soft skills, I’ve been able to take a peek into what the next generation of scientists, engineers, and programmers tick. They want to try new things that may not be directly related to their program of study. They aspire to make professional connections in their field to gain an edge. And, they’re eager to participate in events that will foster their curiosity and intellectual growth. To help them achieve this, our program has done a plethora of activities from paint nights, research networking events, and even a popular Halloween trivia night that I put on.
What touched me most about my work so far is the possibility for students to feel inspired by STEM again. Coming on the third year of the pandemic, a lot of my fellow students feel quite burnt out from school, work, coronavirus, etc. In these circumstances, it’s hard for someone to stay motivated to the demanding area of study that they decided to pursue. But by connecting their areas of study with community, career, and fun, we can bring back in small part that little spark that made us interested in all this in the first place.
One of my first major activities this fall was leading a trip to the Atlanta Zoo. After getting there, most of the students split up into groups to explore the park. I was left with a handful of guys who didn’t seem to have a group to go with. As expected, things were very quiet and shy, and I was a little scared at first that they might not enjoy the experience. After all, how can you stay stony faced when you’re looking straight at an elephant giving itself a dust bath?
But after about an hour, my fears were quelled. They started smiling, laughing, and telling jokes. By lunch, we were thick as thieves. It’s hard to tell what caused this shift. The nice long walk? The cute cool looking animals? The real-world not video call social interaction?
In the reptile exhibit, seeing these previously deadpan students coo and aww over baby turtles, I mused to myself that we’d rediscovered something. One student remarked that after all those exams, seeing them made him feel like everything was okay again. You could see that spark in their eyes, the one that we all had when we were kids and we found something wonderful. After all, it was first our curiosity and sense of wonder that led us to STEM to seek out answers. And can’t we all use a reminder once in a while?