Lorena: Environmental Activist and Aspiring App Developer

Lorena is a student from the United States who attended the Summer STEM Institute (SSI). Lorena is extremely passionate about environmental science, and she started an initiative, ISA Pollution Solution, to spread awareness about climate issues. ISA Pollution Solution has nearly 3,000 followers on Instagram, and Lorena is currently working to start a blog and collaborating on a webinar series for the organization. During SSI, Lorena was introduced to computer science and programming for the first time, and she fell in love with the field! Now, Lorena loves to experiment with code in her free time and is currently working to develop a mobile application to encourage others to volunteer. Additionally, Lorena is starting an initiative to teach younger students in her community computer science. To learn more about Lorena’s environmental initiatives, the mobile application she is working on, and experiences at SSI, check out her interview below. 

Where did your interest for science or technology come from? 

In middle school, my school began requiring all of the eighth grade students to attend this class about science and technology. I ended up really enjoying it because the curriculum was full of hands-on activities. I was also able to learn more about connecting various concepts and ideas in science. Eventually, I was making connections between the things that I learned in that STEM class to all the other classes that I was taking, which I found fascinating. These were pivotal experiences that really opened my eyes to the exciting world of science and tech. 

What are some areas or fields in science and technology that you’re specifically interested in? 

Environmental Science is a field that I find really interesting. I started an Instagram account where I spread awareness about environmental science (@isapolutionsolution). It was originally a school project, but I kept going with it because I find it really meaningful to connect with others about an issue that I care deeply about. In addition to environmental science, I am also interested in programming and computer science. I love how it’s possible to give a computer a set of instructions to execute tasks. For example, I find self-driving cars really interesting because they use machine learning to function. It’s fascinating that a machine is able to take all this information and make predictions based on the environment in combination with the information extracted from its past actions. Apart from machine learning, I’m also particularly interested in graphics, and I’m currently designing a mobile application. 

Can you tell us more about the mobile application you’re working on? 

Many high school students are required to complete service hours. I personally found it challenging to find a place that I want to volunteer at that also fits in my schedule. Most of the time, you either have to call places or go to the volunteering site to find out the details and whether the shifts would work with your schedule. It can definitely be challenging and cumbersome, and sometimes this may even discourage students from volunteering. I’m designing an app with the goal of making this process easier. Students are able to enter information like their age, location, skills, and schedule, and the app recommends students volunteering options that best suit their needs. I also hope the app will be a platform where students can document their volunteering efforts through photos and posts, encourage and inspire others to volunteer, and spread positivity and share their positive impact on their communities. I’m currently in the process of designing the app, and I hope to make it a reality very soon! 

Have you ever programmed before SSI or was SSI your first experience with coding? 

SSI was actually the first time I had any formal exposure to learning how to code! At my school, I hadn’t taken any courses in programming before, and I didn’t know much about coding at all. SSI was the first time I was learning programming in a class. After I got a footing in programming from SSI, I continued to code with Python in my spare time and have been practicing ever since. 

In fact, coding has really turned into a great hobby for me! In my free time, I just like to mess around and experiment with programming. For example, I like to look up programming challenges online and just try to take a stab at them myself.

Besides learning how to program, what were some other lessons or skills you’ve learned from SSI? 

One of the biggest lessons that I learned from the summer was that more often than not, I can create my own opportunities. I think that many people tend to wait for opportunities to come to them, but I learned that through outreach, hard work, and developing a more tenacious attitude, I can actually go ahead and create opportunities for myself. Another lesson I learned was about the importance of making connections because you can learn so much from other people. These two lessons themselves are actually connected; you can open up more opportunities for yourself by reaching out to others and learning about other peoples’ experiences and asking for their advice. The Masterclass lecture series and Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) social events really helped me realize the importance of these two lessons. Finally, I also learned about the importance of the research process and how interdisciplinary research can be. Overall, these are the three most valuable skills that I learned from SSI. 

What was your favorite memory from SSI, and what were some of your favorite parts of the program? 

Although the last day was really bittersweet, I thought that it was my favorite memory in a way. By the end of the program, I realized that I had learned so much in such a short period of time. At the beginning, I couldn’t imagine that I was going to learn that much because the course sounded really challenging at first. It turned out to be just as challenging as it sounded, but I was able to get through it. Knowing that I was able to get through it, and knowing that I learned so much from it, was extremely empowering and helped me build more confidence in myself. 

Joining a community of people who share similar interests as me was one of the best parts of participating in SSI. I was able to meet and engage with other people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance to meet. The program also offered so much guidance; I really liked that about SSI. I didn't feel lost at all. If I had a question, I could ask it and someone would immediately answer it. Finally, I also feel like I learned so much from the Masterclass speakers because they went through high school already. Therefore, they gave us really relevant, useful, and tangible advice that I hope to take with me through the rest of my high school experience. 

How did SSI change the way you view data science or research? 

SSI definitely changed the way I view research. Before the summer, I didn’t know much about research at all and wasn’t aware that the research process was so deliberate and specific. SSI taught me all the ins and outs of the research process, including the step-by-step scientific process which I found really interesting. Through the SSI Conducting Data Science Research course, I learned that to start tackling a problem, you have to first break down a problem and try to understand it better. From there, you can work through the problem itself and use critical thinking and creativity to find a solution. Sometimes, you won’t directly find an answer to your question. You might need to first build a better understanding of the issue and come up with smaller questions to break down your research question. It’s crucial to achieve a higher-level understanding of your problem so you can connect the dots. 

What have you been up to after SSI? Are there any other projects or research you've been working on, or that you're planning on working on in the future? 

I mentioned that I had an environmental science instagram account. I’m also finishing up my blog site to go with it. It’s going to be a space where I’ll put my opinions and facts together on environmental science related topics. I’ve also formed a partnership with other organizations where we’re collaborating on an environmental science webinar series. During the webinars we discuss and spread awareness about topics in environmental science to encourage others to learn more and take action on how we can all do our part. The webinar series features our conversation about our stance on certain topics while communicating facts in a fun and engaging way.

I’m also working on spearheading an after-school club at a school where I can teach other students about programming and expose them to computer science. My goal is to show them the basics and help them gain an exposure on programming, and I’m really excited for it! 

What are your long term career goals? And where do you see yourself in 15 to 20 years? 

I honestly don't know where I'll be in 15 to 20 years because it could always change. However, for now, I can definitely see myself developing apps. Even though I haven't even fully developed an app yet, I’m finding the beginning stages to be really interesting and exciting. Apps have such a large impact on our daily lives, and I really want to be a part of that. I could start right now, of course, and that’s exactly what I’m doing! In general, I hope to be working towards something that brings about positive change, and for now, I hope to do so through developing apps. 

That's amazing. Is there anything else you wanted to add that we might have missed? 

I'm really thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in SSI. I learned so much from the program, and the fact that I can now get in contact with anyone in the SSI community and get advice is really helpful. I'm really excited to put all of the knowledge I gained from this experience into use in the future.