The idea is simple: Students who see themselves in science are more likely to imagine themselves working in the field.
To that end, a project called “I Am A Scientist” is giving middle and high school students the opportunity to interact with modern-day researchers — breaking down barriers like race, gender, and personal interests. It provides teachers with toolkits containing stories, posters, and career resources showcasing 22 scientists’ range of personalities, backgrounds, pathways, and passions. Many of those portrayed have Harvard connections.
“I think that a lot of us have gone onto Google search images and the first thing that comes up when you search for a scientist is a caricature of an old white man with maybe tufts of white hair on the side and glasses falling off his nose,” said Ayanna Thomas, a Tufts psychologist featured in the project.
The spark for the project came in 2016 when Nabiha Saklayen, Ph.D. ’17, wrote a blog post about not fitting into society’s dated ideas of what a physicist looks like, drawing the attention of her longtime friend, Stephanie Fine Sasse, founder and director of educational design studio The Plenary. The women found that they had faced many similar challenges, despite coming from different fields and backgrounds. Their commitment to reducing the barriers for future generations combined with their belief that STEM benefits from diversity birthed the initiative.