“Thank you for coming to speak at our career day. Our students don’t usually get to meet scientists. At our career days, they usually meet police officers, fireman, emergency medical technicians, and metro workers,” said several of the faculty members at Columbia Park Elementary School in Landover, Md.
This wasn’t a knock against any of the above mentioned professions, but it was an acknowledgement that the students at this school, which was for the most part African American in terms of its enrollment, rarely interacted with professionals from the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
As mentioned in previous articles, young people emulate what they see. Thus, when African American children see and interact with scientists who are of a similar background, they’re more likely to fathom that they can do the same thing, or something greater. It now becomes a possibility.
The opportunity to speak at Columbia Park Elementary School was presented to me at one of our Johnson C. Smith University, DC alumni chapter meetings. One of the faculty members at the school pleaded for volunteers to come speak to her students.
It was an easy decision to step away from the day to day rigors of being a government regulatory scientist, to engage young people about my scientific, educational and career paths. It was arguably as important than my day to day duties.
The students were given a presentation and discussion about the sciences of Pharmacology and Toxicology. They were taught about cells, and that they comprise the different organs of the body. They were taught that chemicals exert their effects on living systems by interacting with cells.
They were also introduced to various classes of chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and pollutants found in the environment. They were taught about cancer, and how exposure to certain chemicals can cause the formation of tumors.
The students were introduced to the concepts of oral, dermal and inhalation exposure to chemicals. They were introduced to the sub-discipline of inhalation toxicology, and shown pictures of a nose only inhalation system for rodents, and how such experiments are carried out. Finally, the importance of effectively reading, writing and speaking was stressed.
Only time will tell whether or not any of those students at Columbia Park Elementary School will go on to become a Pharmacologist or Toxicologist. The important thing is that they received exposure to these disciplines and it was from someone from a similar cultural background. They have been presented with the possibility of a career in science; whether or not they choose to pursue it is up to them. Creating possibilities for students who otherwise would not have them is well worth professionals in the STEM careers volunteering a couple of hours, if possible, for a career day such as this.