My name is Alejandra Perez, a current graduate student, a young woman of color just setting her first roots in the professional world and I am a scientists. I first arrived to the states when I was eleven years old without speaking a single word of English. My grandmother’s dying wish was for my father and his family to settle down in California. And so we settled somewhere in a tiny town, where the only difference between my old neighborhood and the new one was the new language. Surrounded by people with the color of my skin, I had no trouble feeling comfortable settling into a new style of life. My only challenges were faced in school and whenever I came across someone who didn’t look like me. I remember asking my cousins to teach me how to say “I don’t speak English.” That was the first phrase I learned, and I used it as my main armor for a year and a half. It helped me avoid uncomfortable questions and situations where the (wrong) emphasis was placed on the color of my skin and accent. I learned to navigate between two completely different cultures; something that appeared to be an impossible task at times. But it was my only option. When you are placed in a situation where you have to decide between drowning and surviving, you tread water without really knowing where you are heading. You just keep going. I have been blessed to have an amazingly supportive family who drove five days across country to make sure I would arrive to my first day at college safely. I am the first of many, and I hope that the generations to follow will use my story (not me) as an inspiration to believe in the power of dedication, hard work, resilience and resourcefulness.
My interest in science started very early on, when as a child I questioned many of the things taking place. My mother’s heavy emphasis on education helped my interest flourish into what now will soon become a career. And I am thankful for the way my family, friends and acquaintances have helped me shape the way I think. The access I was granted to science through the support of teachers, mentors allow me to make informed decisions today. And even if I am not currently studying content within a specific field such as the physical sciences, earth and science, engineering, technology, and life sciences, I continue to use the skills I learned in my undergraduate studies. I can critically think about the importance of a topic, finds ways to address such a topic (via an investigable question), design a protocol, etc. But we are not here to talk about what I can do. I am here to talk about the things I am hopping to do: I hope to give my future students, regardless of race, gender and socioeconomic status a place where they can fall in love with science the way I did, a place where they can take ownership of scientific knowledge and ultimately a place where they can foster and develop their identity as a scientists, as contributing members of a innovative culture.
This past week I was blown away by the work completed in our first session of Brake & Blog. I have had the pleasure of knowing all of you young ladies for the past year or so, and I am excited to see the kind of work you will complete. In line with our conversation from our past session, and as promised I defined my gears and their importance in my life.
DISCIPLINARY CORE IDEAS:
The engineering design: involves every single aspect of a plan necessary to help an engineer build a product with a specified goal. So what makes an engineer different from a scientists? According to me, a scientists seeks to understand more about an existing phenomena, while an engineer starts with a problem he would like to address in mind. He then goes about, very much like a scientists, trying to understand more about a topic with the exception of attempting to design something to fix the problem addressed. I believe that we have all attempted to find a solution to an identified problem. I for example, am too short to get onto my lofted bed. So what does that mean?
I have a problem (not being able to reach my bed) that needs to be addressed. How did I fix my problem? No I did not invent a whole new artifact, but I learned to utilize other things in my room to reach my bed. Here is the list of the things that I can now use to reach my bed.
1. My MCAT books
2. My desk chair
3. My mini fridge under my bed
And sometimes, if I run just fast enough I can jump unto my bed. So no, I did not come up with a new invention, but I found to redefine the purpose of some of the objects found in my room. All of the thinking behind my strategies might not appear scientific to you because so much of our thinking is automatic. We fail to see how much our brain works to make the connections between a problem, possible venues to solve such problem, and deducing the best option. That takes hundreds, thousands of neurons working together, but our brain is so sophisticated that reaching out for an apple seems both natural and automatic.