After E2@MIT, alum mentored in New York and advocated for tech-based education in South America

Valarezo traveling through Ecuador via kayak to film interviews with community members

Valarezo traveled via kayak to film interviews with community members and learn more about education in Ecuador

Columbia University sophomore Jessica Valarezo knew that she wanted to shift perceptions and incubate ideas since taking part in Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT) in high school. With a strong interest in education, Valarezo recently mentored students in New York and traveled to Ecuador and Brazil to prove that technology can benefit communities in immeasurable ways. The chance to give young women the confidence to seek out the careers they want and to implement new educational ideologies in the developing world drive Valarezo’s work.

In 2012, Valarezo participated in E2@MIT, a weeklong program that provides students with a project-based course and workshops in science and engineering. “MIT made me realize the value of mentorship and outreach programs and how startling of an impact they can make on people,” said Valarezo.

Valarezo felt reverberating effects of her transformation years later when she reviewed a journal entry she wrote during E2@MIT in which she pledged her college years to outreach efforts. “I found that journal the last day of my program this summer, and I came full circle,” said Valarezo.

Valarezo mentoring at Girls Who Code, a nonprofit aimed at reaching gender parity in computer science.

Valarezo mentored at Girls Who Code, a nonprofit aimed at reaching gender parity in computer science.

Spurred by the effects of E2@MIT, she became a mentor for Girls Who Code, an initiative that empowers girls to excel in computer science through programs in libraries, schools, and community centers across the country. During her time with Girls Who Code, Valarezo worked with one girl from Paraguay who felt self-conscious because of her accent. Over the course of her time in the program, she learned to code and gained the courage to speak with exceptional confidence. In another instance, two girls created a videogame in four days that was featured in New York Daily News and Seventeen Magazine.

Valarezo says her experience with Girls Who Code impacted her as positively as it impacted the girls she mentors. She is now resolved to start a chapter of Girls Who Code at Columbia University, where she is a member of the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers and Women in Computer Science.

Valarezo and three fellow students from Columbia University travel across Ecuador and Brazil to conduct research on different education systems.

Valarezo and three fellow students from Columbia University traveled across Ecuador and Brazil to conduct research on different education systems.

Valarezo’s time with Girls Who Code inspired her to join a last-minute trip to shoot a documentary about education in Ecuador. “After Girls Who Code, I realized the difference a curriculum can make,” said Valarezo. “I was interested in seeing if using more technology can become part of community reform in Ecuador.” She traveled with three other young women who each had personal hopes for the trip but were united by a common ideal of cultural understanding. Throughout the journey, they spent time with people who shared stories of hope for their own communities as well as stories of success. “To be in some places where development was actually happening and corruption was lessened was hopeful,” said Valarezo.

Now, Valarezo carries what she learned in Ecuador and Brazil as she seeks out her own career. In the near future, she looks forward to pursuing an internship abroad with a software company in Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America, where she hopes to continue learning as much as she can and gain more experience in computer science.

—Sydney Lester

MIT Sloan’s EMBA students provide career advice, network with future scientists and engineers

This summer, experienced professionals from industry and academia in the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Executive MBA program contributed their time and career wisdom to rising high school seniors from across the country participating in programs offered by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. The EMBA students served on panels and networked with the high school students in three programs.

MITES

The Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program hosted science- and engineering-inclined rising seniors from across the country for six weeks, teaching them college-level coursework and life skills to prepare them for college. Eight EMBA panelists attended a MITES dinner on July 22, during which they met with 72 high-performing high school students to network and share advice on a discussion-based panel. MIT Sloan guests included Neerja Bharti (Teleios International), Thomas Horstmann (Eisai Inc.), Karen Edwards (Biogen Idec), Laurel Taylor (Google), Hong Chen (Sanofi Oncology), Adel Malek (Tufts Medical Center), Thomas Stephens (Trinity Partners) and Jonathan Lehrich (MIT Sloan School of Management).

MITES students shared dinner with and sought career advice from EMBA members during an event on July 22.

MITES students shared dinner with and sought career advice from EMBA members during an event on July 22.

MOSTEC

Another group of EMBA members participated in a professional mixer on July 31 for the MIT Online Science, Technology and Engineering Community (MOSTEC), which provides students with six months of online coursework, admissions support and mentorship. The Alumni and Professional Mixer combined dinner with casual networking and opportunities for mentorship. EMBA participants included Tim Piccirilli (American Tower Corporation), Hasshi Sudler (Internet Think Tank, Inc.), Stuart Hart (University of South Florida) and Dan Cosgrove (DuPont Pioneer).

MOSTEC students practice their networking skills with EMBA student Dan Cosgrove at the professional mixer on July 31.

MOSTEC students practice their networking skills with EMBA student Dan Cosgrove at the professional mixer on July 31.

E2@MIT

The MIT Office of Engineering Programs also welcomed EMBA students on August 5 for a dinner and discussion with the 109 students participating in the Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT) program, a one-week project-based prorgam. EMBA members involved in the panel were Charlie Maher (Naval Undersea Warfare Center), Alvero Diez (Corporacion Multifranquicias), Cheryl Campbell (MA Department of Public Health), Ken Bobu (Safe-T Discs, LLC), Joe Schloesser (Iron Mountain Data Solutions), Bill Van Schalkwyk (MIT) and Kamran Hameed (Panera Bread).

EMBA members share career wisdom at a panel and dinner with E2 students on August 5.

EMBA members share career wisdom at a panel and dinner with E2 students on August 5.

—Sydney Lester

New green energy course inspires high school seniors from across the country

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15 students from across the country received certificates for completing the E2@MIT energy course this summer.

This summer, 15 rising high school seniors from across the country learned about renewable energy as part of a new course offered through Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT), a one-week science and engineering enrichment program offered by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. The course taught students the benefits and drawbacks of four different types of renewable energy – geothermal, wind, hydroelectric and solar power – and culminated in student presentations on wind farms that they modeled using advanced software.

Student Samuel Zinga of Loganville, Georgia, uses a model to demonstrate how wind turbines generate energy.

Student Samuel Zinga of Loganville, Georgia, uses a model to demonstrate how wind turbines generate energy.

The course was made possible by Enel Green Power North America (EGP-NA), which invested in the program as part of its efforts to fortify the future of the economy, industry, and company though engagement with younger generations. More than a dozen EGP-NA employees participated, teaching students about various renewable energy technologies and the basics of the industry’s business.

Zack Irons, wind project design and evaluation manager at EGP-NA, led the students through wind farm design projects, spending hours each day working with them and guiding them through the full design process using real-world wind farm data and software. After working closely with the students, he was inspired by their intellect and work ethic.

“These individuals were easily some of the sharpest and most intuitive minds I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Irons said. “Their ability to grasp new concepts, retain enormous amounts of information, and apply that information using brand new tools was beyond impressive – it was inspiring.”

Evelyn Darden from Naperville, Illinois, was interested in the environment before she arrived on the MIT campus, and she developed an even stronger affinity for renewable energy during the E2@MIT course. Through observing course instructor Vera Steinmann’s lab work on photovoltaic cells, Darden affirmed her desire to pursue scientific research in the future.

“I wanted to go into medicine, so I was on the fence about going into research,” said Darden. “When I talked to Vera, it was really reassuring to know that I could go into research during my undergrad.” Since her involvement in E2@MIT and the green energy course, Darden hopes to learn more renewable energy and the implementation of new green technology. “I never knew there were so many different ways to use renewable energy. It’s something that I’d like to research one day.”

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CEO Francesco Venturini was one of many EGP-NA representatives who attended the E2@MIT Final Symposum on August 9.

At Darden’s age, Steinmann held a similar idea about the importance of green energy in everyday life. “I grew up being very aware of the environment and renewable energy; my family has solar panels on their roof,” said Steinmann. “Sometimes I get the impression that people aren’t aware where power comes from, and people use it wastefully.”

Steinmann hoped that by teaching E2@MIT students about photovoltaic cells and other sources of green power, she could inspire them to bring that knowledge back to their communities and make green power more widely embraced.

“I think renewable energy is important because our other sources of energy are limited, and we can’t rely on coal, gas and oil forever,” said Steinmann. “Burning oil harms our environment, and if we want to do something good for the environment, we should focus on renewable.”

—Sydney Lester

SEED Academy seminars teach local high school students about college admissions and financial aid

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On October 18, Diane McKoy of Columbia University spoke to SEED Academy students about navigating college admissions. “You want to find that place where you can grow as a person,” McKoy said.

The fall semester of Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy – a science and engineering enrichment program at MIT for students from Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, Massachusetts – concluded Saturday, December 6 with project presentations and an award ceremony. While much of the semester focused around hands-on science and engineering coursework, the students also attended seminars to learn more about the college admissions and financial aid processes.

A place to grow

Diane McKoy of Columbia University Undergraduate Admissions spoke at one seminar on October 18 during which she offered advice to students on college admissions and the art of choosing the right university. Discussion highlights included the benefits of studying science and engineering in college and the opportunity for students to further enrich themselves by taking humanities classes and working in science labs. Students also discussed their interests in exploring fields outside of science and technology.

By pursuing paths in science or engineering at Columbia or anywhere else, according to McKoy, students will learn valuable skills needed later in their professional lives. McKoy herself dabbled in a few different courses of study during her time in college, learning as much as she could at Columbia before entering the workforce. “I was premed, prelaw, and pre-engineering by the time I graduated,” she said. For McKoy, a balanced education in science and engineering supported her as she moved through her career to where she is today.

McKoy also stressed the importance of seeking out an institution that will incite personal growth and individual passion. “Find the right place that will allow you to be challenged and be the best that you can be,” said McKoy. “You want to find that place where you can grow as a person.”

For those interested in applying to Columbia, 5,000 internship opportunities await students enrolled in undergraduate education, as well as $900 million in research grants. SEED students also found through the event that the majority of undergraduates at Columbia find jobs in their fields of choice after graduation, a concern of many high school students entering college. SEED students left with confidence to apply to scholarships and the knowledge to strategically approach the college application process.

Personalized college guidance

In another seminar, Gabriela Gomez Coates of UAspire Boston, a non-profit focused on college access and affordability for area high school students, provided SEED participants with information about choosing the right school to fit needs and interests, building a network in college, and financial aid. Coates also led a discussion about the importance of researching and applying to scholarships. “Scholarships may take two or three or five hours, but the payoff is really good,” said Coates. Coates explained that colleges and universities have a large sum of revenue devoted each year to financial aid awards, which is why students need to do the appropriate amount of research when looking into and applying to schools.

Once scholarships and financial aid are awarded, students and their families need to review all aspects of their financial preparedness for college, Coates said. “UAspire sits down with you and your award letters and we talk about award money, work study, and where the gaps are,” said Coates.

UAspire plays a role in helping students comprehend their pre-college financial situation in a way that makes sense for their families and makes sure that they understand how to take action and appeal when necessary. Whatever students’ ideas and educational goals are, UAspire works to make them happen. “If this is your dream college, we’ll help you afford it,” said Coates. Because UAspire works hard to advance students in the direction of college, students are expected to reciprocate those efforts. “Juniors and seniors, you have a lot of academic responsibilities.”

—Sydney Lester

Dreams took flight during MITES for NASA technologist

Dr. Aprille Ericcson, a 1980 alumnae of MITES, is Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Dr. Aprille Ericcson, a 1980 alumna of MITES, is Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Seventeen-year-old Aprille Ericsson strapped into the flight simulator at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, while taking part in MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) in 1980 during the summer before her senior year. A talented student from Brooklyn expecting to pursue a law degree, this was her closest experience to piloting an aircraft. An affinity for aerospace was born when she stepped out of the simulator and saw her score –103, just three points from perfect. “That was my first real interest in aeronautics and astronautics,” she says. Since taking part in MITES, Ericsson has held several positions in the aerospace industry, including her current job as Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Now, she works to identify gaps in technology and enable researchers to fulfill those future technological needs.

Ericsson’s high school algebra teacher, also an MIT alum, recommended the MITES program, formerly UNITE, which she later attended. The program today runs for six weeks in June and July and gives engineering and science-inclined students the chance to experience life and college-level courses at MIT during the summer between their junior and senior years. While on campus, MITES students create meaningful networks of friends and staff, and most MITES alumni go on to study science and engineering at top universities. Ericsson pursued her undergraduate degree at MIT and her graduate study at Howard, where she became the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at the university.

During MITES, Ericsson learned about her growing desire to help people and found fellow students who shared her excitement for learning. The combination of intrinsically motivated students and encouraging instructors and teaching assistants gave her confidence to enter the aerospace field. “The people supporting the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs are really bright people I still admire,” says Ericsson.

MITES also taught Ericsson how to handle crises. During a bridge building competition, she injured her finger while feverishly trying to finish the project. “I learned to work under duress, in short periods of time. I learned to accomplish things and put my mind to it,” says Ericsson. Despite her injury, she was able to return and finish her bridge for the competition. The ability to thrive under strict time constraints and stressful situations was a critical skill she developed at MITES. Under the inspiration of MITES, Ericsson attended MIT a year later.

In July 1980 during MITES, Ericcson learned to work in high pressure scenarios during a bridge building competition.

In July 1980 during MITES, Ericcson learned to work in high pressure scenarios during a bridge building competition.

After MITES and MIT, Ericsson entered the workforce and found a series of fulfilling positions. “I find it particularly enticing to improve people’s lives and make them easier,” says Ericsson. “The projects that I work on have to be impactful in our communities. They have to be positive and not destructive.” Instead of working on missile defense, Ericsson attended graduate school at Howard University, where she developed control algorithms for applications like the International Space Station. While a Ph.D. intern, she joined the ranks of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, creating methods of attitude control simulation and software testing.

Along with creating useful technologies that benefit people on a larger scale, Ericsson enjoys the thrill of solving complex problems. “When you’re trying to obtain a goal, you don’t know how many steps you’ll need to take,” says Ericsson. “Spending an entire lifetime on helping to solve questions and problems is really cool.”

Ericsson has also devoted herself to empowering young women and minorities interested in STEM careers. She has done this though active membership in the NASA GSFC Speakers Bureau as a Mentor and University Professor, and previously as an aerospace teacher for students at Howard University Public Charter Middle School of Math & Science.

Ericsson advises aspiring scientists and engineers to maintain high hopes for the future and seek out opportunities with patience and perseverance. “The prizes of life are at the end of each journey,” she says. “Have lofty goals, believe in them and you will achieve them. You will always get there, but you will achieve a lot more than you thought you would.”

Speakers at middle school program orientation overcame barriers to study science and engineering

Mentor and mentee and dad attend the 2014 STEM Mentoring Program Orientation on October 18.

Mentor Kevin Smith, a senior studying computer engineering at Boston University, middle school mentee Kevin Matos, a sixth grader from Lawrence, Massachusetts, and his father Pedro Matos attend the 2014 STEM Mentoring Program Orientation on October 18 (photo by Meredith Lawrence).

Public middle school students from Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, their families, and undergraduate mentors attended orientation for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Mentoring Program at MIT on October 18. As part of the orientation, three keynote speakers from MIT and Harvard shared experiences that led them to study and seek careers in science and engineering.

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Danielle Olson (photo by Greg Perko)

Mentors changing minds

Danielle Olson, a recent graduate of MIT in computer science and engineering, gave the first talk. She said that despite her love of science growing up, she couldn’t picture herself as a scientist because of prevailing gender stereotypes. When she was introduced to a mentor through a program offered by her high school, the picture she had of a scientist suddenly changed. “My [original] idea of a scientist was not an outgoing, creative, black female; my idea of a scientist was Bill Nye,” said Olson. “My mentor looked nothing like my idea of a scientist. It was because of this that I changed my major from journalism to science.”

After rejecting preconceived ideas about the kind of career she could have, something different called to Olson. She urged the middle school students in the audience to take a closer look at what their futures could look like if they reject stereotypes and obstacles. Olson left the students with one assignment: “I challenge you to use what you have to do what you can. The master has failed more times than the novice has even tried.”

David Boone

David Boone (photo by Greg Perko)

Staying hungry

The next speaker at the orientation was David Boone, a Harvard junior who founded his university’s Undergraduate Robotics Club and completed an internship at Microsoft. Like Olson, it never occurred to Boone to study science and engineering as a high school student despite having a deep interest in those fields. Instead, he expected to pursue law or medicine. “Growing up smart in Cleveland, you either become a doctor or a lawyer,” said Boone. “No one ever thought to tell me, David you’re smart, why don’t you become an engineer?”

Feeling a lack of challenge at his high school, he applied and was accepted to the Minority Introduction to Science and Engineering (MITES) program at MIT. Boone’s experience during MITES changed his perception of success and opened him up to a new way of thinking about his own future. “For the first time, I was surrounded by students just as excited about engineering as me with very similar backgrounds.”

Now, Boone lives his life in a way that reflects his ideals and allows him to be a role model for his family. “My siblings look up at me for inspiration,” he said. “I can’t get too content, I have to stay hungry.”

Mareena Robinson-Snowden (photo by Greg Perko)

Mareena Robinson-Snowden (photo by Greg Perko)

Ignoring fear

Mareena Robinson-Snowden was the last to speak, sharing the story of her career path, which took several turns and detours prior to her current position as a doctoral candidate in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. She talked about the importance of not letting fear prevent students from reaching their goals. In high school, Robinson-Snowden feared that she wasn’t capable of understanding math concepts like her peers. “My fear was paralyzing,” she said. “It kept me from learning. I had established a belief about myself, and once you establish that belief, your mind looks for evidence to color that belief.”

Robinson-Snowden stressed that students passionate about science and engineering should not become disheartened about the subjects they study, and that they should never give up on challenges because of fear. Today, she has overcome her own fears and serves as co-president of the Academy of Courageous Minority Engineers.

STEM Program Academic Advisor Catherine Park closed the orientation by thanking the speakers, middle school students, families and mentors, and provided some context on why the program is important. “Middle school can be tough sometimes, and the transition to high school can be even tougher,” said Park, “That’s why we match our students with people who went through it all in the not so distant past.”

—Sydney Lester

Workshop helps high school students communicate science to the public

132 rising high school seniors from across the country fine-tuned their abilities to communicate science to lay audiences during a science-writing workshop on July 30 at MIT. Part of the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) conference, the workshop featured a panel of ten experienced writers and highlighted the importance of communication skills in science and engineering careers.

MOSTEC students present information in science writing style at the annual conference.

MOSTEC students present on their peers’ science and engineering projects in layman’s terms during the workshop.

The conference was part of the MOSTEC program, a six-month experience that challenges high school seniors with rigorous, technical projects and gives them the opportunity to discuss science, engineering and college admissions in a supportive online community. Inspired by the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing, this year’s four-week MOSTEC science writing course, which included the July 30 workshop, matched ten science writers from the MIT graduate program with groups of 12 to 14 students whom they taught remotely before the conference. Program Coordinator Louis Fouché added the course to MOSTEC in 2012.

One MOSTEC science writing instructor who participated in the workshop was Emily Ruppel, who studied English literature for her undergraduate degree and felt unsure of her career path before finding a home at MIT. As a graduate student, she learned how apply her nonfiction writing skills to science and technology stories. “The MIT graduate program has a focus on really making you a better writer,” said Ruppel. With a new passion for science writing, she jumped at the opportunity to teach the MOSTEC course upon finishing her graduate studies.

Ruppel sees the course as crucial to the success of the future scientists of MOSTEC, who will one day find themselves writing grant proposals for their own research funding. “Writing and communication are such integral parts of the process of science,” Ruppel said. “Scientists can explain their projects to a multitude of audiences, so the better prepared they are to talk to those audiences, the better prepared they are for science.”

Science writing instructors teach students how to simplify sentences for general audiences.

Instructors share tips on simplifying language in science writing intended for the general public.

Another reason science writing is so important, according to MOSTEC science writing instructor Erin Weeks, is that the public plays a significant role in scientific advancement. “So many discoveries are made with public funding, so scientists owe it to the public to tell them what they’ve been doing with that funding,” said Weeks.

During the on-campus workshop, instructors led activities to test students’ ability to write with clarity and brevity. During the first exercise, instructors presented complex sentences for students to simplify. In another exercise, students paired off and discussed their MOSTEC project work with partners, who presented what they learned to the group. Whenever students heard something an audience might not understand, they “buzzed” for the speaker to use more accessible language.

Through both exercises, instructors reinforced that communicating with general audiences requires writers to think carefully about word choice and narrative. “You have to be very entertaining,” Ruppel said. “You want your audience to enjoy it so much that they don’t realize they’re picking up complex concepts along the way.”

The panel of instructors fielded questions for the second part of the workshop. MOSTEC student Ashia Ajani, a Colorado native with a passion for poetry, asked about blending her own creative brand with the technical elements of science writing. Ruppel responded with an excerpt from the description of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing: “Science writers may, or may not, hold academic credentials in science or engineering. But they are always humanists, one foot in the sciences, the other in the arts, as apt to be seduced by a shapely sentence as by an elegant scientific idea.

MOSTEC students left with a better understanding of science writing and how to communicate their ideas and research. “I’m hoping that this course breaks down the notion that science isn’t for everybody,” said Fouché. “You want science to benefit everyone. I’m hoping as time moves forward that scientists more clearly see the importance of being able to engage in scientific discourse with the general public.”

—Words by Sydney Lester, photos by Meredith Lawrence