Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) senior Pooja Chandrashekar has an abundance of personal experiences and knowledge on how to get your child involved with STEM-related activities that she will share with parents and students at the upcoming 2015 K-12 STEM Symposium.
She is the Founder and CEO of ProjectCSGirls, a nonprofit organization aimed to cultivate a love for technology and computer science in girls and encourage them to pursue their interests and careers in these fields. Additionally, Chandrashekar is one of eight students from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) who has been named a semifinalist in the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search.
WashingtonExec spoke with Chandrashekar on the upcoming panel she will be speaking on at the STEM Symposium, “Panel II — Positive Messaging: Making STEM Cool for K-12 Kids,” scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7, 2015.
WashingtonExec: What is the topic of your speech? Can you give us an insight into what you will be talking about?
Pooja Chandrashekar: I will be talking about how to encourage younger students in STEM and computer science, as well as sharing my own experiences of pursuing STEM in middle and high school. I will also be talking about how to increase the number of girls pursuing STEM careers and how important it is to start early, during the elementary and middle school periods, to build students’ interest in STEM. For example, I will be talking about the importance of independent discovery and creative thinking during middle school, which is when a large chunk of learning and development occurs.
In addition, I will be emphasizing how to dispel negative stereotypes about STEM and computer science by ensuring that students are exposed to a stimulating and inclusive environment during their childhood and given strong role models to look up to. I am also going to be sharing some of the STEM-related activities I participated in during my time in middle school and how they helped me with the academic transition into high school.
Finally, I will be sharing how I took advantage of the incredible STEM opportunities I found during my years in high school and how they have helped shape my plans for college and beyond.
WashingtonExec: What do you hope students and parents get out of your talk and the STEM Symposium?
Pooja Chandrashekar: I hope parents gain a better understanding of how to introduce their kids to STEM and get them excited about the many possibilities and opportunities available in the STEM fields. I also hope students come away from my talk brimming with excitement about STEM and with a better sense of some of the STEM-related activities, clubs, competitions, and programs that are available both nationally and in the D.C. metro area for them to participate in.
I spent a lot of time in middle school taking part in some of these programs, had a fantastic time and credit many of them for my inspiring my current love for science. I attended the STEM Symposium last year and was so impressed with how the event is able to bring together students, educators, and industry professionals in such a fantastic way — the atmosphere was just filled with this kind of tangible excitement! I hope it’s even better this year and that my talk is able to contribute in a small way to that.
WashingtonExec: What message do you hope to send to students, girls about the STEM industry and related subjects of study?
Pooja Chandrashekar: Every STEM field of study offers something beautiful, exciting and interesting, and I think it’s really important that students understand that because a lot of the really cutting-edge discoveries that are made today are a result of interdisciplinary learning. I also hope to show students that there is nothing such as “a field not meant for them.” Sometimes girls feel that way about computer science, but you should never give up on an area of study that truly interests you.
Follow your natural curiosity and find what really makes you think and draw connections between different areas. And to girls hesitant about entering the STEM industry because of the current shortage of women in STEM and computer science, just go for it. If you’re passionate about what you do, you will be recognized for your talent and nothing can stop you from making strides in the field of your choice.
Also, to all students interested in STEM — make sure you actively seek out opportunities that will help you develop into a better scientist. Examples of such opportunities are science fairs, independent side projects or research, science competitions and internships.
WashingtonExec: How do you view parents as a factor in getting their child involved? How were your own parents involved in your pursuit of a STEM-related topic?
Pooja Chandrashekar: I think it’s important for parents to be involved during their child’s early years, namely in elementary and early middle school. In my opinion, parents should be involved with engaging their kids with STEM activities early on and giving them space to tinker and play around with things. I also think parents should be informed of the STEM opportunities and activities happening locally as well as be cognizant of the importance of a stimulating and non-discriminating environment. At the same time, parents should let their child pursue whatever they are interested in because a genuine interest for a field is what is really going to help them in the future.
My parents have always emphasized the importance of independent discovery, and I have vivid memories of tinkering with renewable energy kits in middle school and making “concoctions” by mixing things in my house together.
My parents were also well-informed of what kinds of summer programs were available in Northern Virginia, so I would spend a few weeks near the end of every school year in middle school picking out what programs seemed interesting and fun. That way, I was able to explore areas like game programming, robotics, and web design early on. They really let me decide for myself what areas interested me and I think it’s absolutely essential in high school especially that parents let their children explore and figure out for themselves what they love and what they want to pursue.
The 2015 K-12 STEM Symposium is being made possible from the support of CTOVision, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, Intelligence and National Security Alliance, Professional Services Council, Sage Communications and United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.