Student Essay Winner Writes of the Importance of Hands-on Science
In her winning essay, a Bio-Rad essay winner shares her perspective on the importance of giving students hands-on science learning opportunities. Having attended inner-city schools in the Bay Area, Kainat Shaikh offers an insightful look at the value of science education for today's students.
According to Kainat, the Health Science Academy program strives to "spark students' curiosity in a science-related field," and Kainat is a testament to the success of STEM programs like this. As a senior, Kainat won the Ron Mardigian essay contest sponsored by Bio-Rad Laboratories.
In her essay, Kainat writes enthusiastically about the value of hands-on science education and the importance of giving students STEM learning opportunities. Kainat says that the "unknown factor" is what excites her most about science. "Science is a mystery yet to be solved, a puzzle yet to be crafted, a discovery yet to be made. Realizing that I may discover something that no one else knows about holds such tremendous value to me. Being able to find a cure to some of the deadly diseases of our century and knowing that there is a potential to help heal and better lives of individuals around the globe is an idea that continues to motivate me during stressful weeks in college," says the Berkeley freshman.
Kainat knows that she wants to pursue a career in science, but deciding on her course of study as a college freshman has been difficult. "All areas of science intrigue me," she says. "The problem is that I have to choose just a couple areas, so that I can give my complete time and energy to the field." Currently, biology is an area of major interest for Kainat. "The way in which life is created, how living things interact with one another, how different combinations of four bases can create two completely different species, or how we all depend on one another for survival are concepts within Biology that continue to make me question all that is around me," explains Kainat. "The more I learn, the more I begin to realize how much I [do] not know."
Science is not just about memorizing chemistry or physics formulas or even following other individuals' experimental procedures. It is also about you finding evidence to support your own theory, asking your own questions, developing your very own scientific process along the way, and discovering the unknown, and, ultimately, your very own answers.~Kainat Shaikh
When asked what advice she would give to students who are just entering middle or high school and think science 'isn't for them,' Kainat stresses the fact that science is already a part of everything we do. "I would tell them the following. Believe it or not, you have had much more exposure to science than you might think. Science is all around us. For example, when you make lemonade, you're mixing several ingredients together, creating a science experiment that we would call a homogeneous solution in scientific terms. Or when you're making pizza dough and add sugar and hot water to yeast, the yeast is activated by the hot water, and the sugar enables the yeast to 'grow.'" Kainat urges students to realize that while one area of science may not be of interest, another area might be. "From looking through telescopes to observe Saturn to discovering a cell responsible for creating memories, science is a very broad subject... similar to how there's so much left to discover in science, you can simultaneously discover your own favorite field through experimentation. The opportunities are limitless."
In addition to her interest in science, Kainat likes to read dystopian literature, 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale being favorites, and make bracelets. "Currently, I'm making one inspired by the double helical structure of DNA," she notes. Kainat also has a love of languages. She speaks Hindu and Urdu, reads Arabic, and is learning Spanish.
The full text of Kainat's winning essay appears below.
By Kainat Shaikh
Human beings are quite amazing, but we certainly are not the strongest animals; we do not have fur that would protect us from the cold nor do we have wings to escape from a predator or fly down to catch a prey. Furthermore, we are susceptible to various types of lethal and infectious diseases. Yet, we have managed to survive as a species for thousands of years. This has only been possible because of humankind's possession of immense brain power. Our brains have enabled us to imagine several life-changing ideas, such as Watson, Crick, and Rosalind Franklin's discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. Their discovery has empowered scientists of today to continue performing research on the cell to cure the most deadly diseases of our century. This is a prime example of how science can drastically change the world for the betterment of society. To further enhance our legacy, as humans living in the only known habitable world, we can encourage interest and participation in science by creating more hands-on scientific opportunities for the public.
Early intervention is critical in increasing the amount of participation in science. On a personal account, in elementary school, I remember learning about natural disasters from a lengthy textbook. While this classic method informed me about essential scientific terms, ideas, and theories, the book was not as powerful of an experience as the scientific experiment I conducted with my 5th grade class. We made a clay volcano by utilizing baking soda, vinegar, and soap. Bubbly, vivid, and full of energy, it was quite an explosion. Having attended a low-income school, due to budget cuts, our class only had the opportunity to actively participate in just one experiment. I wish that the curriculum was designed so that we would have the maximum amount of hands-on experiences in the subject. Today, elementary schools can aim to do this, to encourage children to participate in and conduct experiments at school so that their curiosity is sparked. If more hands-on opportunities are provided in the class, the students would feel a deeper connection and interest with not only science, but most other subjects as well. Another instance in which early intervention would increase children's interest in the science field is taking them to places such as the Exploratorium and Academy of Sciences. The Exploratorium, a hands-on museum packed with interactive scientific activities, is the perfect place to encourage active participation in science. Whenever I visit the museum, I constantly notice several groups of children surrounding a particular exhibit, and asking numerous questions about how their shadows are colored or why the model tornado spins in a certain direction.
Educating individuals of all ages the true essence of science, and granting learners the opportunities to pursue a career in the field would motivate them to increase their level of participation. Science is not just about memorizing chemistry or physics formulas or even following other individuals' experimental procedures. It is also about you finding evidence to support your own theory, asking your own questions, developing your very own scientific process along the way, and discovering the unknown, and, ultimately, your very own answers. Teachers must give students the tools and background knowledge to build their experiments; however, from that point onwards, students must take the initiative to perform the research and develop a procedure. Additionally, to encourage participation in science, the community can create science-related opportunities for the younger generation, and empower them to make a difference. Whether it be volunteering at a local elementary school to teach children topics about science or interning at a state-of-the-art biomedical laboratory, no opportunity is small or less rewarding. Furthermore, on a personal account, my Health Science teacher had reserved a fieldtrip to the then new UCSF Sandler Neuroscience center. Last year, when my classmates and I visited this research facility, we were astonished by the new forms of technology and science taking place at the institute. Part of our trip included the opportunity to travel inside an animated brain by utilizing highly-developed goggles. It seemed completely surreal. The entire experience was extremely inspirational, and, for the first time, I saw myself pursuing a career in the science field.
As a result of the trip to the organization and past science classes, I applied to a summer internship program at the Gladstone Institutes, UCSF. This program is geared towards providing research opportunities to low income, underserved minorities to further diversify the future science field. Through an extensive application process, I was granted the privilege to perform research on HIV using live, infected immune cells. Although the research I conducted was a roller coaster ride, it has taught me that when performing research you often fail and continue to, but then you reach that turning point, and it is that successful moment which becomes the highlight of the rewarding experience. Safe to say, the internship changed the course of my life. Seeing that I could be a part of this community and having mentors who were women deepened my passion and interest for the subject.
In conclusion, to increase participation and interest in the science field, active learners must be given the opportunity, but also take initiative for themselves, to discover what science means to them, and how it impacts their daily lives. Science has the potential to create a more efficient and healthy society, but it is in the hands of future generations to uncover hidden puzzles, cures, and innovations.
Realizing that I may discover something that no one else knows about holds such tremendous value to me. Being able to find a cure to some of the deadly diseases of our century and knowing that there is a potential to help heal and better lives of individuals around the globe is an idea that continues to motivate me. ~Kainat Shaikh
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