Steps To STEM Success

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Westbury students take part in My Brother’s Keeper event

Westbury High School students heard from leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and learned more about how to succeed in the field during a recent visit to Brookhaven National Lab for the My Brother’s Keeper anniversary event.

My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative instituted by President Barack Obama and supported by the White House as well as several government departments, foundations and corporations, connects young male minorities with mentors, support networks and skills to help them reach their full potential. To celebrate the second year of the initiative, about 45 students from Westbury joined more than 160 peers from New York City and Long Island at Brookhaven Lab for a day of mentorship and engagement in science. Among the students who attended the event was ninth-grader Joshua Taylor. He said he walked away from the event with a better understanding of the importance of education.

“A lot of people spoke to us about college and coming to the Lab,” Taylor said. “Education is key. Everybody there went to college and made progress and that’s how they became successful.”

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A Westbury High School student with Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson.

Students heard from a variety of leaders in government and STEM. Among the speakers was Broderick Johnson, assistant to the president, cabinet secretary, and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper task force, who gave a keynote address on the importance of government, businesses, nonprofits, local education agencies and individuals stepping up and doing their part to ensure all of the nation’s youth have the tools they need to succeed.

“Together we can highlight the importance of inclusive and active STEM engagement here in the United States, and why every one of us needs to do more to ensure that every American—including those underrepresented in STEM, like women and people of color—are exposed to this ecosystem through active and hands-on experience,” said Johnson.

LaDoris Harris, Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity and an engineer by training, urged the students to take advantage of the mentorship and support networks available to them.

“We’re here because our future relies on you,” said Harris. “Whether you want to become STEM leaders or President of the United States, make sure that you do each and every day all you can do, be excellent at what you do, and know that we recognize how important it is for us to do what we can for each of you.”

The morning session kicked off with a panel discussion, and the students were enthralled by the personal and educational journeys of the speakers, which included scientists and staff from the Lab, educators from SUNY Old Westbury (which co-hosted the event), and leaders from public and private sector organizations.

Westbury High School senior Ezra McNeill said he was grateful for the opportunity to hear from people like Johnson who were doing great things.

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“We saw a lot of successful people who look just like us, and it gave me motivation and inspiration to go forward and keep on pushing to pursue my dreams,” McNeill said, adding that everyone who attending got something out of the event. “I had a great conversation with Broderick Johnson, and he kept telling me to keep moving forward. Listening to someone of that stature is great confirmation of what I’m meant to do in my life.”

The day’s program also included a tour of the Lab’s Department of Energy Office of Science User Facilities—the National Synchrotron Light Source II, Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider control room—along with hands-on activities that highlighted the Lab’s current research initiatives and world-class facilities.

Westbury High School assistant principal Reginald Warren accompanied the students on the trip and said it was a great opportunity to hear from people at all levels of government. Students were able to ask questions and network with professionals in STEM fields, as well as participate in problem-solving workshops to see the applications of science.

“The message was that you can achieve any goal you have, but the common denominator is that you have to work hard,” Warren said. “You have to be focused and involved in some type of mentorship with people who are where you want to be.”

A follow-up event will be held in April at SUNY Old Westbury to sustain engagement with the students, and provide an opportunity to meet with recent graduates and faculty from various disciplines.

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