As New Yorkers headed to the polls on November 6, nearly four dozen high school students headed to the Flatiron Institute to learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The event was part of the seventh annual STEM Matters NYC Career Day, organized by the New York City Department of Education. The Flatiron Institute was one of 41 organizations, including Apple, Google and the public radio program Science Friday, that offered students a chance to visit working scientists, programmers, engineers and other STEM-related professionals.
Student visitors to the Flatiron Institute learned about the quantum physics behind magnets, the hunt for alien planets, and the sequencing of genes. They also got a private tour of the institute’s high-performance computing cluster and were wowed by the combination of electrical power, airflow and know-how that keeps the powerful machines running.
Along the way, Flatiron scientists shared their experiences and offered insights and advice about pursuing a STEM education and career. Students peppered the scientists with questions about the nuts and bolts of research funding, the affordability of graduate school, ways to get a job in scientific research, and the day-to-day life of a scientist.
One of the event’s goals was to “put a human face on science,” says Megan Bedell, a research fellow at the institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics. “I hope I can help them have a specific person in mind that they know is an astrophysicist, so it doesn’t seem like a pipe dream, but something accessible that they could do.”
The students participated because they wanted to. Election Day is a school holiday in New York City, and teachers weren’t offering extra credit for taking part. The event’s appeal is that it “flips the paradigm of career day,” says career day coordinator Zohar Ris, who works for the New York City Center for Aerospace and Applied Mathematics, a hands-on learning center in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood. During a traditional career day, professionals visit the classroom, an environment that provides no context about where they work and what they do. “It’s different when the students come to them, when the students see actual workplaces and what’s being done in their own city,” Ris says.
For information about participating in the STEM Matters NYC Career Day, either as a host or as a student visitor, email STEMCareerDay@schools.nyc.gov.