Updated: Jul 11, 2020
"I had a thirst for deeper knowledge, one that my elementary school teachers couldn't understand or fulfill."
My introduction to STEM was through crabs-the live red crabs that were sold at Korean markets, in the aquarium-like tanks with concerningly dirty water.
As a young child, I was always more interested in reading and writing than in science or math. Countless hours of being forced to work on Kumon workbooks had seemingly dulled any further interest in me pursuing anything remotely stem related. I would much rather pretend to be a fashion designer for my stuffed animals than play around with remote-controlled robotic dogs. That was until my dad brought home a crab in a bag.
Naturally, I was compelled to touch it, my younger self viewing the crab as a funny looking pet with two claws that would threateningly snap at me whenever my hand got too close for comfort. The hour that I spent observing this crab, its mannerisms, and how its claws worked, I became compelled by the mechanics behind it, how its body and arms moved to best suit its needs. My mini bonding session came to an abrupt end when I was led into my room-a book placed in my hand, and I was told not to come out. I heard a crunch, then a plop. Needless to say, we had crab for dinner.
Since then, I've fallen into the seemingly endless gamut of STEM, focusing on biology at first. Although my friends would tease me about staring at insects during recess, and cringe in disgust as I marveled over the digestive system, I was fascinated with how organisms functioned. I had a thirst for deeper knowledge, one that my elementary school teachers couldn't understand or fulfill.
Middle school brought not only a chance to grow but new beasts that I had to battle. Not only did I have to juggle schoolwork, but my relationships with my family and my friends. The same friends I grew up with started drifting apart due to different interests, and my parents started putting more pressure on me regarding grades and extracurriculars. The mental storms that usually passed by twice a month at the most started occurring more frequently, and at times, I felt like giving up on everything, even my previous passions. When I felt like throwing everything away out of sheer frustration, Science Olympiad, a club introduced to me by my biology teacher, gave me a sense of security and reassurance that there were people who understood my passion for STEM. It became a safe haven for me as I chased my interests and tried new events along the way, like crime busters (forensics), meteorology (the study of weather), as well as experimental design (a fast-paced event where a group of three has to design and perform a science experiment related to a topic using only the materials given). Not only did the competitiveness draw me in enough to want to continue participating in high school, but the people I met and the connections I formed with everyone on my team gave me a refuge, somewhere I could be without fear of being judged.
High school came, and I found myself swept away by the seemingly endless possibilities and choices I had, from DECA to Key Club to the Dungeons and Dragons club. I could take a variety of courses, from chemistry to physics to marine biology, and join science-based clubs such as computer science club, as well as compete in science fairs. High school has truly inspired me to pursue my passions further as I became introduced to new subjects and topics that I would not have otherwise thought of exploring.
As a science olympiad member, I am entrusted with a handful of students every year that I have to teach and prepare for competitions. Working with younger students, especially young, self-motivated girls, and helping them find their passions through STEM has been an eye-opening experience, as I can tell that they are truly passionate about making a difference in the world for the better, no matter what path that they choose to take.
Although I cannot predict the future, I can proudly say that the future of STEM, especially for young girls, is brighter than ever. Females have not only been proving that they are capable and able to handle topics originally thought of as work for men but at a higher caliber and intensity of research, showing how just a little bit of inspiration can go a long way.
In my personal experience, through my internship under a graduate student in a biomedical engineering lab at my local university, further doors have been opened, and in the moments I do go to my lab, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratefulness and honor. Not only do I get to pursue what I am truly passionate about, but I get to learn from others in that field and have the once in a lifetime opportunity to work alongside them, helping them make meaningful contributions to research of the present and future.
Although I don't work with crabs anymore, my fond memory of them serves as my motivation, a reason I have to continue pursuing STEM even when it does become difficult or almost impossible at times. It reminds me of not only where I started from, but where I intend to go, and what I hope to achieve for both myself and others.