The most exciting moments of my pre-college education were from a field trip to the geology department of Augustana College where I was shown around the facilities by Dr. Michael Wolf. He showed me tools that scientists use to experiment with rocks under intense heat and pressure.
This visit where I met Dr. Wolf, with his Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt, was ingrained in my memory as the coolest experience of middle school. The laboratories were new and different, breaking the routine of lessons. Trips to college laboratories or museums like this were so much more exciting to me than a dull textbook, because they made learning fun. There was no test at the end of the day or pressure to find a right answer. When we had the chance to answer questions, I leapt at the opportunity. For once, it seemed, someone admitted that there may be more than one answer that works. For me, visiting actual science labs made learning engaging and encouraging, something that was often lacking in a school attempting to wrangle thirty students into one windowless classroom.
These experiences played a tremendous role in my desire to become a scientist. It wasn’t until I met with actual scientists that I realized how practical science is. Without such an experience, the methods of science would have remained as an abstract idea on a trifold poster. Being able to see a lab motivated me to perform well in school so that I might too, eventually, do something really cool like scientific research.
However, not all students have the opportunity to have experiences like these. It is this that provides me extra motivation to interact with younger audiences, especially as I embark on my scientific research career during this summer’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology. I can never repay Dr. Wolf for the impact he had on my career, but I can pay his generosity forward and make the education of the next generation of scientists as integral part of my scientific career.