tjSTAR Highlights: Speakers, Sponsors, Honorees
Bozeman Science Keynote a Hit with Students
The 7th annual tjSTAR kicked off with the introduction of Keynote speaker Paul Anderson of Bozeman Science by lead student organizer Anna Tsustui, TJ ’15. Anderson, beloved by students for the clarity of his hundreds of science videos complemented by his down-to-earth demeanor, is traveling the world speaking to students of all ages while on leave from his teaching post in Bozeman, Montana.
Anderson immediately ingratiated himself with his audience of juniors and seniors (he gave a different talk to underclassmen later in the day) by telling them what they love to hear the most, that they are unlike any audience he’s ever had. This is the “first place I’ve been where students brought me in, and it’s touching to me,” he began. In chats over Skype, students had discussed with him the topics they wanted him to address, he explained, beginning with the story of his life and career.
Anderson’s first slide — of an embryonic cell meant to illustrate his own beginnings– elicited a great reaction. “That’s what makes you a different school. Stem cell jokes are killing it, “ he deadpanned. His parents gave him science books as presents and his favorite place was always the library, he went on. He became a science teacher in order to inspire kids to stay interested in learning (the hardest thing he ever had to do was stand up in front of his first Physics class) and began making videos in response to student requests. His first videos were awful, but student criticism improved them. At the recommendation of a friend, he put them on YouTube, where he was discovered by legions of students and teachers.
His AP Biology videos are required watching for TJ students, who find them clear and entertaining. According to SGA President Anant Das, TJ ’15, who led the effort to bring Anderson to TJ, his diagrams of hard-to-visualize processes like cellular respiration are extremely helpful.
Anderson made the point that STEM alone is not enough. Art is incredibly important; so are reading, writing, and humanities, he continued, and empathy, struggle, and failure. To make his point, he referenced Daniel Pink’s book Drive, which, because it was the school’s “One Question” reading two years ago, was familiar to every TJ upperclassman. His reaction: “This school is so weird. I love this school.”
As requested by the TJ students who invited him, he concluded his talk the same way he concludes every video: “Thanks for coming,” he said,“I hope that was helpful.”
Reception student keynote speaker Pooja Chandrashekar, TJ’15 (pictured below) told the audience of current, past, and future parents, alumni, and corporate partners gathered at the Tysons Hilton how TJ has enabled her success. Pooja, whose many accomplishments are legendary, discussed a small sample of them: her award-winning research project on mild traumatic brain injury conducted at MITRE through TJ’s Mentorship Program; her nationally recognized creative writing encouraged by her humanities teachers; and her work with ProjectCSGIRLS, the non-profit she founded to encourage girls in computer science.
This year’s sponsors helped make tjSTAR possible by covering the costs of lunch, t-shirts, programs, and more. In addition, our wonderful corporate sponsors enriched our program through their participation as speakers and panelists and/or by manning displays and demonstration booths.
Dr. Ananthakrishna Sarma, Senior Scientist at Leidos (right), explained the company’s OMEGA model weather simulator, a tool that not only supports weather forecasting, but also predicts the dispersion of such hazardous materials as radioactive plumes and has other government and commercial applications. When a student asked whether OMEGA was an open-source platform, Dr. Sarma responded “it’s not open source, but if you want to work on it we can make that happen.”
SpaceX Government Affairs Manager Stephanie Bednarek spoke about advanced rockets and spacecraft in one session, and the “audacious goals” of aviation-like spaceflight and enabling human life on Mars in another (see August 2014 issue). She also sat on two panels: space-related careers; and STEM pathways for women, where she was joined by General Electric’s leadership trainee Jessi Tseng; and Microsoft’s Citizenship Director Donna Woodall and researcher Shawndra Hill, who gave a separate talk about women in computer science. in addition, three young Microsoft employees participated in a panel discussion of the company’s new hires program.
Bednarek (pictured, at left) also took the occasion to present a $3,000 Women in Engineering Scholarship, the first high school scholarship ever awarded by SpaceX, to Annie Brown, TJ ’15 (at right), who intends to study computer engineering at University of Illinois (see “SpaceX,” Washington Post, June 16, 2015).
In the Exhibit Hall, Ntrepid demonstrated its isolation-based approach to malware mitigation, Grant Thornton showed how its key metrics deliver rapid software functionality to federal agencies, Leidos displayed its innovative solutions in national security, health and engineering, and Microsoft demonstrated its Surface Pro3, the Touch Development platform. Rounding out the list of generous 2015 tjSTAR sponsors were K2M, Jane Street, and Northrop Grumman.
Reception Honors Local STEM Heroes with “Tommy Awards”
Introducing Tommy Award recipient Teresa Carlson was a TJ student who has already done a lot to encourage girls in STEM, Maddie Zug, TJ ’15. Maddie investigated gaps in computer science education with a Google Trailblazer grant; co-founded Coding Lady Colonials, an 8th period club for girls in computer science; and helped run this year’s phenomenally successful HackTJ (see June 2015 issue).
Carlson, a Vice President with Amazon Web Services, the nation’s leading cloud services provider, was recognized for founding a program that pairs young women entering STEM fields with female mentors.
Also receiving a Tommy Award was Longfellow MS math teacher Vern Williams. Beloved by legions of TJ students who passed through Longfellow MS or attended one of his summer enrichment camps, Williams was honored for his dedication to challenging gifted young students, many of whom he inspired to study math-related fields and choose math-related careers.
Andre Kessler, TJ ’11, was one such student. In his personal introduction, he described how, inspired by Mr. Williams in 7th grade, he went on to teach at Williams’ summer camp the summer before his sophomore year at TJ. Kessler, who distinguished himself at TJ in math, physics, computer science, and debate and who recently graduated from MIT, where he conducted research and taught other undergraduates, will be a software engineer at tjSTAR sponsor SpaceX this fall.
tjSTAR Reception Research Lab Project Displays
ASTRONOMY & ASTROPHYSICS
AUTOMATION & ROBOTICS
Josh Levy & David Everhart
(not attending, Kai Smith)
BIOTECHNOLOGY & LIFE SCIENCES
Rhea Sharma & Alexis Williams
CHEMICAL ANALYSIS & NANOCHEMISTRY
Rebecca Merriman-Goldring (right)
Anant Das & Helen Zhang
Mikaela Ruiz-Ramón & Haley Stumvoll
MOBILE & WEB APPLICATION DEVELOPMENT
OCEANOGRAPHY & GEOPHYSICAL SYSTEMS
Zoe Wang & Lindsay Williams
PROTOTYPING & ENGINEERING MATERIALS
QUANTUM PHYSICS & OPTICS
“JUMP” (UNDERCLASSMEN PROJECT)