I hope you’re sitting down for this week’s blog post; it’s a doozy! This week we feature guest blogger, EAST alum and biological scientist, Shelby Paschal. Shelby has had an exciting summer and wanted to share her thoughts on how these sorts of opportunities happen.
How EAST made me a better engineer:
I suppose I should start by clarifying that statement.
EAST hasn’t technically made me a better “engineer,” because I’m not quite finished yet. I will receive my degree in Biological Engineering from the University of Arkansas later this year, so for now, I will start with “how EAST made me a better scientist.”
Science is what I love and thankfully, it is what I get to do. I have spent most of the summer at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, as an environmental chemistry intern assisting in monitoring the water quality and light availability in the Chesapeake Bay.
To be completely honest, it has been a crazy summer! I have learned to write a grant proposal, got a boating license, been enlightened on how complicated the water chemistry in an estuary can be and learned from the top experts in my field (and played volleyball with a couple of them!). It’s an experience of a lifetime for a girl who wants to devote her life to ensure high water quality across the globe, not to mention it is a pretty far cry from what I thought I would be doing when I was in high school.
During my years at Mammoth Spring High School, my main EAST project was helping maintain our school website but I mostly dabbled in whatever my awesome facilitator, Mrs. Joy Underwood, would let me. The options of software to learn and projects to work on and things to do was overwhelming. My senior year, I spent much of my EAST class time prepping to be a conference ambassador and that was easily one of my favorite memories of school. But this all has nothing to do with what I’m doing now, right? Or does it?
The beauty of my experience with EAST is that while I was learning some of the most valuable lessons of my career, I didn’t even realize it. Who knew that troubleshooting HTML scripts to fix minor problems on a school website three years ago would make the code for statistical analysis on my nutrient data in MATLAB easier to understand just last week? Or that communication skills I learned as an ambassador in 2011 would be what helped me land my dream internship this summer? Not to mention the fact that I would use GIS mapping skills every day to make the trends in water quality and nutrients seen through an entire watershed to document changes as the water flows?
Science isn’t just about the experiments anymore, it’s about communicating those results and making connections on a larger scale. In many ways, every career field is looking for people to make those connections and solve problems in innovative ways to make a difference. Unfortunately grade school and even most colleges aren’t preparing us for those bigger tasks, and that’s where EAST comes in. The EAST classroom isn’t just a class where you learn a certain subject; it’s a program where you learn how to think. It is not about the projects themselves, it’s about the brains behind those projects. When I was in EAST, I thought the biggest achievement for a program would be a project that impacted the community in a positive way (and we had those!). Instead, what Mrs. Underwood and all those wonderfully sneaky facilitators were really offering was the opportunity for us as students to be impacted in a positive way. EAST taught me personally how to start a project from scratch, learn what needed to be understood to complete that project, stick with it even when I didn’t always want to and then communicate the results or ask for help if it really needed improvements to move forward.
And if we are going to be completely honest here, that’s not just how EAST made me a better engineer, or even a better scientist; it is how EAST made me a better student. And that means being equipped to take on just about anything!
– Shelby Paschal
Do you have goosebumps? I do. Thank you Shelby, you’re exactly what we talk about when we talk about the capacity for education and EAST to help develop the next wave of STEM professionals. I am so proud of what you have done but more excited about what you will do. Congratulations!
Until next time,