Asta at NSTA-Passion based science!

Hello all you Aquatic Adventurers!

Asta and the Arch-Top of the Millennium Hotel, St. Louis!
Asta and the Arch-Top of the Millennium Hotel, St. Louis!

I am writing to you today from St. Louis, Missouri!

This is my first time visiting this massive and complex city, and so far I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the people here. Almost everyone I’ve walked by has made eye contact, said hello and asked me what I’m visiting for, which is something I’ve almost never encountered before in my time in the US. It’s a lovely change!

NSTA used to be ASTA, the American Science Teachers Association. I kind of wish it still was.
NSTA used to be ASTA, the American Science Teachers Association. I kind of wish it still was.

I’m here to meet with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teachers from all across the United States. They have convened here in the city of the Cardinals to talk about how teachers can inspire students to dive into STEM topics, and ultimately lead them towards successful careers that will advance these important fields for the future.

Cardinals are  BIG DEAL in St. Louis.
Cardinals are BIG DEAL in St. Louis.

After a big day of talking to teachers about our Educators On Board program, I was feeling like the crumbles at the bottom of a toaster-completely burnt out.

Most days, I am incredibly excited and passionate about our upcoming Expedition to the Great Lakes, the One Water Story. However, after a full day of flying, rushing around to prepare for a big national conference, and a couple of dissapointing setbacks, I was having a hard time flashing my smile and getting pumped about talking about it.

When the day wrapped up, I dragged myself through the massive America’s Convention center, and towards the lecture hall where Keynote Speaker,   Dr. Ainissa Ramirez was giving her talk, entitled “Why we Need Science Superheroes“.

Dr. Ramirez's poster at the STEM conference
Dr. Ramirez's poster at the STEM conference

Dr. Ramirez is a former professor of engineering from Yale University, but currently, she works as a writer and ‘science evangelist.’Her current focus is on getting people excited about science, and she is dedicated to finding unique and creative ways to create interest in the subject. She is particularly focused on the study of nanotechnology and smart materials, and has developed a way to pass on her knowledge of this subject through her Material Marvels website.

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Dr. Ainissa Ramirez talks about a brand new material known as Graphene.

Dr. Ramirez has an intriguing  life story that has taken her to where she is today. It is inspiring not only because she is female scientist, but because she hopes that a role model for young girls, she can help create a future where scientists like her aren’t as rare. She’s working towards making science more approachable and exciting, and she wants students and teachers to have the tools they need to learn how to both fail, and succeed.

I walked into an amphitheater, filled with at least 400 educators from all over the United States. Some of them looked as bedraggled as I felt, as it was already 7pm, and they had been at the conference since noon.

As I walked in, Dr. Ramirez called out to the crowd, “Is everybody with me? We ok?”

An enthusiastic “Yes!” poured out from the crowd, more of a response to a speaker’s question than I’ve heard in a long time.

Dr. Ramirez was part way through explaining what the next generation of scientists really need to succeed in their future careers. She explained that students no longer need to memorize facts about the world verbatim, and be able to spit them back. That type of learning may be have been necessary in the past, but with the advent of the internet, and instant information, students have all the information they need at their fingertips.

What students need now is the tools to think creatively and critically.  They also need a source of passion to inspire their career choices. That source, she explained, stemmed straight from the people who first inspire them. It comes from the dedication of their educators, the people who love knowledge and learning so much that they decided to take it on as their life’s work.

Science teachers on their way to work.
Science teachers on their way to work.

In my mind, science teachers are superheroes. My science teachers helped me fight through a severe lack of confidence in myself growing up. They showed me that science means its ok, and sometimes necessary, to make mistakes.

With every mistake you make, you are actually constantly improving your ability to observe and understand the world around you. This is a principal aspect in science- you  make mistakes, you learn what doesn’t work, and you think creatively new and innovative ways to do things so that they do work. Failure is an important lesson when you’re growing up. Her best quote of the day? “In science, we don’t call  making mistakes ‘failure’-we call it data“.

I’ve taught science myself, and I know that the subject can subject can sometimes be exhausting. Kids have a natural sense of wonder about the world, and are able to constantly question the way things are. Teachers are sometimes expected to act as walking encyclopedias of knowledge, and the constant barrage of questions can make you want to just shut down, and focus on what you already know.

Dr. Ramirez noted that sometimes in adulthood, we sometimes lose our inner childlike wonder, and stop taking the time to ask questions about the world. As we age, we grow wiser, and we build structure for ourselves around the knowledge we’ve already gained. To ask questions is to bring in more information, and that process can be difficult, time consuming, and overwhelming. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I feel like my hard drive is full, and I just don’t have anymore room in my mind for new information.

Dr. Ramirez proposed that this is just a self induced limit, and something that educators should free themselves of. To inspire children, you must have passion for what you do, and the best way to create passion is to explore. By learning new ways to think, exposing yourself to new elements of a topic, or meeting someone else with a similar interest, you can re-ignite your passion, and bring it back to the classroom, or to the people around you.

Would this incredible piece of art exist without passion, creativity, and science?
Would this incredible piece of art exist without passion, creativity, and science?

Passion based learning is what brought me to being a marine scientist, and science communications specialist. Passion is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s also what gets me talking to complete strangers about coming on a sailing adventure with me.

Passion is what drives me to want to protect our freshwater lakes and ocean for the future, because without them, none of what I do in the scientific world would be possible. I want to inspire passion in others, especially teachers, so that there is a future generation who will have this passion passed down to them. If teachers have a passion for water conservation, so (hopefully) will their students.

Thank you, Dr. Ramirez, for your heartfelt, rousing lecture. It definitely re-ignited my passion, brought me out of my lethargy, and allowed me to charge forward with what I needed to do here in St. Louis.

What I think I’ve learned most in the last couple days is that passion can be shared. It’s what will keep pushing us into the future, and it will be the backbone of creating the solutions we need to protect our environment. I aim to keep passing it along, and I hope you do too, whether you’re a teacher, environmentalist, sailor, or world citizen. Keep the passion flowing!

Way cool. From
Way cool. From the Montgomery school page.