HUANG Stirs Change by Making Science and Humanities Work Together
LOWELL -- Katherine Huang doesn’t let anyone tell her how or when to learn. That’s how it’s always been.
“I wouldn’t really wait for someone to say you can learn this, or you can take this class. I would just go out and do it myself,” she says.
When she was younger, Huang taught herself Latin, and tried to teach herself modern Greek, “but that one didn’t go so well.” She’s the co-director of MAHacks, a bi-annual hackathon in Boston, has done scientific research at Harvard, and currently has a full-time internship at UMass Lowell, where she works with biological data.
So it’s not a surprise that, when people at school told Huang she couldn’t pursue the two things she loved at the same time, she wouldn’t hear of it.
“I’ve always been interested in not only math and science classes, but also history. I felt that what people were telling me was ... you can’t go into science and also history. If you like English, you hate math, things like that,” said Huang, 17, who will be a senior at Lowell High School this year.
That’s how she got the idea for Science & Us, the organization she founded with the goal of promoting careers in science and communication to high school students; careers like science policy, media and journalism.
“Often you’ll hear about going into STEM, that’s where the jobs are, that’s where the money is. But at the same time people tend to have diverse interests and they don’t realize that you can pursue STEM and you can also focus on developing your interest in humanities and social sciences,” Huang said, “We want to bring careers like science policy and science journalism into people’s minds and make them realize that those exist.”
“Unfortunately, in (science career paths), there’s a really strong force pushing students to pursue a research career, and not pushing them to a career toward communication,” says Nathan Sanders, co-founder of ComSciCon, an international science communication workshop for graduate students at Harvard. Communicating scientific ideas is equally as important as research, but few students are exposed to it, he says.
High school students aren’t typically invited to the somewhat exclusive 50-attendee ComSciCon conference, which happened in June this year, but Huang was an exception.
“Her mission and the organization that she founded is so extraordinary, we thought that her participating and working with our graduate students would be so positive that she just had to join,” Sanders said, “to my knowledge, hers is the only organization that prepares high school students for careers in science communication. It’s very rare to see that.”
Science & Us started with a conference, which Huang was able to put together in only a few months with the help of some student colleagues and a connection at Boston University. Around 40 high school students in the greater Boston area attended, and had the opportunity to attend lectures, hands-on workshops, and a speakers panel from experts. Jeffery DelViscio, director of multimedia and creative at the Boston Globe’s life science and medicine site STAT News, and Daina Bouquin, Head Librarian at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, were just a couple of the speakers.
“When I was there, I felt like, this is what I’ve been looking for,” Huang remembers with a smile.
“I had no idea that I was going to expand (Science & Us) to all of these different things beyond the conference, but I knew I wanted to spread this vision that I had, which is that everything is interdisciplinary and interconnected,” she continued.
Beyond upcoming Science & Us conferences, Huang is also developing a starter kit, which high school STEM clubs can use to incorporate more communication into their existing clubs. And always thinking ahead to her next project, Huang and a group of her fellow students are putting together a TedxTalk at Lowell High, set for November.