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Doing Science

Alumni, Intel ISEF

This alumna helped create Alaskan high school engineering academy

7:00AM, August 18, 2017

Keeping talent local

Doing Science
Tam holds up signs celebrating the Anchorage School District.

Tam holds up signs celebrating the Anchorage School District.


Tam Agosti-Gisler, an alumna of the Society's Intel ISEF 1972, was involved with the creation of the first engineering academy in an Alaskan high school. Her efforts now encourage the next generation of students, especially girls like her niece, to study STEM fields and enter science fairs.

In 1972, she was one of two representatives from Alaska when she went to New Orleans for Intel ISEF, where nearly 2,000 students from over 75 countries, regions, and territories come to the U.S. to present their projects. Tam considered a career in microbiology, but instead worked as an educator for 22 years. People were more interesting than microbes, she said.

Read on to learn more about Tam and the engineering academy she helped form.

ON CREATING AN ENGINEERING ACADEMY: I set up a partnership between Siemens and the Anchorage School District to create the academy at A.J. Diamond High School. I formalized partnerships with STEM organizations, the school's principal, and the district's assistant superintendent and sat on the engineering advisory board at the high school for years. I was particularly supportive of their work to attract girls to their engineering courses, through an annual girls of engineering day and more.

The academy helped the state keep talent local. It allows students to see how they can continue their education right here in Alaska

Similar academies have now been set up at three other high schools in the district and pre-engineering courses are being taught at Diamond's feeder middle school.

It’s been an incredible success. Students transfer from other high schools. I really credit our business partner Siemens for coming forward with it. The Siemens CEO in Alaska wanted to "grow our own," since his company lost time and money when they brought engineers to work here who couldn't acclimate and then left.

Adversity makes you stronger.

The academy has helped the state keep talent local. It allows students to see how they can continue their education right here in Alaska, that it's not necessary to go to a school in the lower 48. There was a lot of focus to have students continue their education here and be hirable at the end of their degree program.

Society alumni are champions of science. You can become a champion of science too.

ON GENDER IN STEM: When my sister entered medical school in the late 1970s, as a woman she was an anomaly. I believe she became a great doctor due to her struggles for recognition in the classroom. Adversity makes you stronger.

There is no difference between a male nurse or a female nurse, they are simply nurses.

In my niece's world, all the doctors are female. She has a female pediatrician, and her mother is a doctor. In kindergarten when a boy said, "when I grow up I want to be a doctor," my niece turned to him and said, "you're so silly, only girls can be doctors."

THE IMPORTANCE OF SCIENCE FAIRS: Science fairs allow students to ask and unpack questions. Experiential learning is by far the most impactful and powerful memory hook. And experiments, especially when there are setbacks, can teach students perseverance and grit. Understanding cause and effect shows students that human actions have consequences, both negative and positive.

At Intel ISEF I was enthralled to meet young people from around the world and impressed that they not only had to speak with expertise about their projects, but they also had to do it in English.

Science fairs allow students to ask and unpack questions.

As females, we were the minority gender at that fair in 1972, and our chaperone was a bit taken aback that so many of the male participants were interested in talking with us. At 14, I was totally floored by the attention. I remember being scared to death, but then proud that I could answer most of the judge’s questions with confidence. I was thrilled that I actually won some money with an award and put it in my education account!

My Intel ISEF project focused on the microbial oxidation of hydrocarbons by microorganisms that were indigenous to an oil seep at Umiat, Alaska. I originally dreamed of finding a way to stimulate the "appetite" of oil-eating bacteria and seed them over an oil spill by air. It would have been highly useful when the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened 17 years later, the negative impacts of which are still to be found today in the Prince William Sound. Good project ideas come from problems in the environment around you.

Good ideas come from problems in the environment around you.

HOW SHE BECAME INTERESTED IN STEM: Growing up in Alaska, surrounded by nature and activities like fishing and camping, a child can't ignore science. One learns science whether it's a formal (spotting safe running water) or informal (sticking your tongue on a freezing pole) lesson. My earliest memory of a science experiment was in kindergarten, when my class collected snow, melted it, and then observed.

HER ADVICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE INTERESTED IN STEM: Don't ever let your interest in STEM careers be influenced by whether it's a field dominated by one gender or another. Many of those barriers are dropping rapidly. There is no difference between a male nurse or a female nurse, they are simply nurses.

10:23am, August 11, 2017

When it comes to preserving the beauty of coral reefs, Cuba has many valuable lessons to teach. Laws against overfishing and pollution, as well as strict environmental regulations, keep its coral reefs pristine.

The delegation of marine science educators in Cuba.
7:00am, August 11, 2017

At the Society for Science & the Public, we believe that science fairs such as the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Regeneron Science Talent Search, and Broadcom MASTERS are creating the next generation of STEM leaders. We want to share how science fairs and STEM competitions have a positive impact on young people, which is why we are submitting a panel for the 2018 SXSW EDU conference.

Three Society alumni and our President & CEO Maya Ajmera will discuss the importance of science fairs.
12:49pm, August 2, 2017

A science class can make or break a student’s decision to pursue STEM subjects throughout the rest of their lives. Janet Waldeck, a physics teacher at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, is helping to ignite a passion for science in all students with her lending labs program, which allows teachers to check out high-tech science equipment to use in their classrooms.

“There is a big difference in the gap between richer and poorer schools, but not in the motivation of children,” Janet said.

Janet Waldeck, second from right, advises her students as they use a lending lab kit. 
4:25pm, July 28, 2017

Pooja Chandrashekar knows a thing or two about starting a nonprofit as a teenager. At 15, she founded ProjectCSGirls, a nonprofit that promotes computer science among young girls. Although she started on a smaller scale, she always hoped to eventually inspire girls worldwide to pursue computer science by making it an international organization.

Pooja Chandrashekar, front right, at the ProjectCSGirls National Gala in June.
8:00am, July 12, 2017

Leslie M. Klevay, M.D., S.D. in Hyg., has been studying the effects of copper on the heart for decades. The professor emeritus of internal medicine at the University of North Dakota researches the leading cause of death in the Western world — ischemic heart disease.

"It’s the leading cause of death. It’s important," said Dr. Klevay, an alumnus of the 1952 Westinghouse Science Talent Search (now the Regeneron Science Talent Search). "If you want to work on something in science you don’t want to work on something trivial."

Leslie Klevay in 2013 at a commemorative plaque, where the connection between copper and nutritional health was discovered, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received the Medical Alumni Citation from the alumni association.
8:00am, July 10, 2017

Akshara Legala and Suditi Bhatt, two high school students from Sacramento, California, developed and tested greywater filtration systems with natural filters. Greywater is a way to recycle used water, and a method environmentalists tout to save freshwater resources for drinking while greywater could be used for appliances and agriculture.

Akshara and Suditi tested different natural materials in greywater filtration.
8:00am, July 7, 2017

Science and STEM skills take our alumni into varied, exciting careers.

Naomi Shah, who graduated from Stanford University this month, is already entering Wall Street. This summer she is moving to New York and will be working on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs.

Last summer, Naomi interned on the trading floor and "loved the fast-paced environment." There are a lot of STEM majors on the trading floor, she said. While the trading floor is very different from a research lab, the skills of data analysis and modeling still apply, Naomi explained.

Naomi Shah discusses her project during the public exhibition of projects at Intel STS 2013.
8:00am, July 5, 2017

Teaching out of a textbook can only do so much to ignite a student’s interest in science. Elias Arellano Villanueva, an eighth-grade biology teacher at IDEA Public Schools in Weslaco, Texas, knows that it takes some time outside of the classroom for students to gain a lifelong love for science.

“I want my students to see what scientists really do, and inspire them to become scientists. They aren’t going to be inspired just sitting there doing worksheets,” he said.

Elias Arellano Villanueva (second from right) works on a project with students and fellow Advocate Ellen Smith Tourigny (left) at the Advocate Training Institute in Washington, D.C.
8:00am, June 29, 2017

By Sophia Stuart

Science is a collective of global thinkers bringing next-generation solutions to real-world challenges. But often our view of what a scientist is, or how s/he spends their working day, is very narrow. Broadcom MASTERS International, a program created by the Society for Science & the Public in 2012 with the Broadcom Foundation, wants to change all that.

I’m now inspired to go further and discover things.

Ujwal Aradhya, from India, explains his inspiration as an innovator was APJ Abdul Kalam, the former President of India.
1:56pm, June 28, 2017

By Sophia Stuart

On May 17 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, 26 middle schoolers from 19 countries, all rising stars in math, applied science, technology and engineering, presented the projects that qualified them for the Broadcom MASTERS International program.

The Broadcom MASTERS International 2017 delegates at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, California.
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