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Summer STEM Speakers Talk about Work World Challenges

POSTED ON: August 3, 2016

Students in the Summer STEM program. Photo: Angela Starita Antonia Zaferiou ME'10, a post-doc at the University of Michigan, and Jayde Lovell of the New York Hall of Science. Photo: João Enxuto Delano McFarlane, formerly of Venmo, and Subriya Stukes, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Photo: João Enxuto. Students talking to Jonathan Chin, co-founder of ShareMeals, after the panel discussion. Photo: João Enxuto
Students in the Summer STEM program. Photo: Angela Starita

On July 28, a panel of six young engineers, computer scientists, and biomedical researchers spoke to this year’s Summer STEM participants, approximately 212 high school students from the New York area. They discussed their training, their work and the challenges facing women and minorities in the field. The panel included Antonia Zaferiou, a Cooper mechanical engineering alumna who graduated in 2010, who described her work in biomedical engineering. She told the students that their current interests, no matter how far afield from STEM they may seem, could play an essential role in their future careers. She herself had been a dancer before arriving at Cooper and decided she wanted to learn about the mechanics of movement. Eventually she earned her MS-PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Southern California and is now a post-doc at the University of Michigan as well as one of 11 instructors in Cooper's Summer STEM program. Jonathan Chin, another panelist who had studied computer science and is now an educator, poet and entrepreneur, was shocked to discover that he had classmates at New York University who did not have enough to eat. He went on to found Share Meals, a website that lets people fundraise and advocate for policy changes to end hunger on campuses.

Jennifer Halweil, an electrical engineer, actress, and entrepreneur, acted as moderator of the panel. Noting that the field needed more women and people of color, she quoted the physicist and astronaut Sally Ride, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Each of the panelists discussed their work and some of the obstacles students might encounter over the course of their careers. Sabriya Stukes, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who has a PhD in Biomedical Sciences and works to translate medical research into business ideas, described how it felt to often be the only Black woman in work places and at STEM-related conferences. In response, Delano McFarlane, formerly the head of data science at Venmo, argued that creating more diversity in science and technology can be fostered by showing corporations that employing engineers from all backgrounds creates a better product.  “We’ll be building better things and attracting better people,” he said.

The Summer STEM students, all rising juniors and seniors in high school, have been attending the program for the past five weeks. In addition to the hands-on work in the classroom, the students took workshops to develop their technical communication skills, met professionals in a number of STEM fields during field trips, and were given seminars in preparing for careers and the college admissions process.

On Thursday, August 11, they will present their work from 11 different projects in a broad range of STEM-related fields.  This event is free and open to the public; registration is strongly encouraged using this link.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.