My St. Andrew Science Story…Because Girls in Science Matter
On Sunday June 1, four St. Andrew High School classmates (Mikaela, Reneé, Tayo, and Camille) and I launched a 30-day crowdfunding Campaign to raise money for the fourth lab on the Old Science Block at our alma mater in Kingston, Jamaica. Our goal is big – USD$25,000 – but achievable. For me, our efforts are not grounded merely in sentiment, but a deep commitment to help current and future students at the school where I began to know myself. Truly, it’s a commitment to Life More Abundant. The Campaign’s theme this week has been “Your St. Andrew Science Story” so….
Three memories are seared in my memory about studying science at St. Andrew High School for Girls. The first is learning about Marie Curie and her discovery of radiation, and how that discovery – her life’s work – ultimately killed her. To my adolescent brain the idea seemed fantastic: someone’s hard work could kill them? So I learned about Marie Curie and radiation and its harm, and I immediately connected it to having to wear the heavy vest when I had to do an X-ray. I had to wear it so I wouldn’t die like Marie Curie. Amazing to me, even now. That one reference in science class in high school and that immediate association has stuck with me for over 20 years. I didn’t know it then but I had absorbed a valuable lesson about passion and doing what you’re passionate about with great effort and commitment.
Another memory is from an integrated science class when we had a quiz game. We were split into teams to have a spirited quiz about topics we’d been learning. At that stage in class we were just learning basic science stuff – how to measure and the tools of the science lab (that magic word “apparatus”) – and our teacher asked a question about how to properly read the measurement of liquid in a cylinder or flask. I pulled a Hermione Granger because I was eager to answer that question; it was associated with another magic word: meniscus. I answered and the teacher said are you sure and the feeling of dread in my stomach was heavy. But I said yes I was sure and explained that reading the meniscus is the way to measure liquid in a cylindrical container. The skeptical look on her face remained. By this time the class was staring at me and my team was not at all pleased..points were at risk. Now, those of us who went to school in Jamaica know that we often had to stand to address a teacher or to answer a question so believe me, no one was missing this exchange. Our teacher looked around the classroom and asked whether someone else had another answer…someone did and I forget it now but I did remember that our teacher told her no. Puzzling. Then she said something like “She [meaning me] was right and she stood behind her answer. You have to learn to stand strong in your answers, girls. Be confident.” Relief is insufficient to describe how I was feeling. In that exchange I learned confidence and that grounding that confidence requires being sure of your facts. I was always a
nuff precocious girl but this was different. Over time and with experience I’ve learned that sometimes giving in to instinct is OK but, even then, a properly grounded argument matters. Now that I think about this, this may explain law school. And you may say what’s the point of learning about the meniscus anyway? Well to this day when I bake, I measure things and bend to eye level to check the meniscus…it has to to be right. O and my love of science wasn’t relinquished with law school either; I have found ways to connect the disciplines.
The other memory is also related to integrated science: when we began learning about nutrients – the vitamins and minerals and what good and harm they did to the body. I remember reading my textbook that weekend like it was a Nancy Drew book, feverishly making organized notes about which vitamin did what. These things helped and harmed? I was giddy with glee to learn about scurvy and rickets and the need for iron. The food I was required to eat at home – which at the time included the dreaded callaloo – made a little more sense. The adults actually knew what they were talking about. Ha. Even as I type this I can still, in my mind’s eye, see the book pages with my careful notes about vitamins and minerals. It stuck with me, at first unconsciously, that science is fun…that it explains the world around me. That it is real and (mostly) explainable.
The confidence, the passion, the fun I have learning now are all grounded in these experiences. I enjoyed other classes too and I have always been a good student, but it is these early experiences at St. Andrew High that grounded me. When I left Jamaica at 16 it was heartbreaking. I still recall that day too – August 18 – and the numbness. I ultimately left because I felt suffocated in the only home I’d ever known. My options felt too narrowly defined and for all the exposure my family had given me, I felt that there was more out there for me to discover before I settled on anything. I had to leave. I know that now. But I resolved, once I got over the emotional hump of leaving home, that whatever I do here in this new space must ensure that no other young person in Jamaica should ever feel suffocated in their home; that no other young person should feel as if he or she had no choice but to leave to reach for full potential.
So that mostly explains my impetus for corralling my friends (into what really amounts to another job to run this Campaign) and convincing the school and the school’s foundation that this was a good thing to try. There are practical considerations too: (1) crowdfunding is a useful tool and we must take advantage of the connectivity that now frames much of our lives; (2) renovating Lab 4 will cost a lot of money (approximately USD$80,000) and given the current economic climate in Jamaica, we need to raise funds through as many channels as possible; and (3) this is an opportunity to connect with folks who are not St. Andrew Old Girls but who still passionately support girls’ science education and good science education. Working in the lab is a cornerstone of studying science; it is how we explore our natural world and develop our curiosity. Even if you don’t pursue a career in science, early full exposure to science is invaluable. Fundamentally: girls need to know that we can be scientists too, that they can do the “hard” sciences too. This Campaign communicates to current St. Andrew students that we believe in their talents and support their right to be educated, to try new things, to learn and make mistakes in a safe and encouraging space. We have heard from current students how inspiring it is to work in a fresh new space; invigorating. Study after study tells us that empowering young women early by exposing them to quality science education has immeasurable impacts on their lives; and we know, more broadly, that educating a nation’s women lifts the nation. Life More Abundant.
I hope that you will support us. Invest, inspire, empower.
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