Portland Junior Scientists

Meghana Rao from Portland, OR

The Project

I started Portland Junior Scientists (PJS), a student-run, community service organization where high school students unite with at-risk youth to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by guiding them through hands-on experiments. We started an after school science program at Portland After School Tennis and Education (www.pastande.org), a non-profit youth development program for at-risk kids. The kids at PAST&E attend James John Elementary, a Title 1 school, and learn minimal science in class due to budget cuts. When I learned about this, I felt a sense of urgency and a desire to take action. Starting Portland Junior Scientists was a huge leap of faith for me. I didn’t know how the idea would be received. I spoke with the directors of PAST&E about having a 2-hour, once a week science program for their students. They were very excited. To launch this effort, I needed to find funds as well as fellow teachers. I reached out to my classmates at school, and two of my friends (we are now a team of 11) were interested in teaching. We began teaching in September 2011, and I paid for all the lessons out of my pocket. As lessons for 40 kids became expensive, I wasn't sure if I could continue PJS. I knew that giving up would be letting our students down. I applied for the $5,000 Pepsi Refresh grant in November 2011. Out of urgency, we made sure every single person at our school voted every day for us, and as a result, we won the grant! We were so grateful to continue.

The Progress

In November 2011, we earned a $5,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project for our work at the PAST&E Science Club. This grant gave us the ability put forth a great science curriculum for the PAST&E students during the 2011-2012 school year. Science Club students learned about new topics each week, such as oil spills, hydrophobic substances, and Newton’s Laws by building bottle rockets, water filters, electric circuits and more. In the spring, we divided the students into groups to begin the grand finale of the Science Club year: a science fair! Each group, mentored by one PJS member, crafted an original science fair project that expanded upon one of the topics touched upon over the year. The issues they tackled were highly relevant: earthquake-resistant buildings, the effect of oil spills on eggs, etc. All this experimenting culminated in the first PAST&E Science Fair on June 13th, 2012. Parents, coaches, and high school teachers delivered quite a turnout to see the students present their projects proudly. This summer, PJS branched out for the first time! We taught a 4 day science camp for the kids at Beaverton Police Activities League. We taught 70 kids about non-Newtonian fluids, heat conductivity and pH, and they loved it! Our goal is to start more after school programs across the state at other Title 1 schools that struggle to provide science education. We are in touch with teachers at local elementary schools and are expanding our team of volunteers in preparation.

The Team

I have never been a part of something more incredible than our PJS team. The past year has shown us what we can do together, and we want to take it further. We are in touch with other Title 1 schools in Portland, and we want to share our science program with more students. We built a website (www.portlandjuniorscientists.org) to easily share what we do with other schools, businesses, and donors. I am 16, and I am the project manager. I am a driven 4.0 student, and varsity athlete. Because of my interest in science that was fostered at a young age, I have pursued it wholeheartedly. I have done independent research at Oregon State University and a U.S. Dept. of Energy Lab and have competed in international science fairs and conferences. Now, I have recognized a need and have the opportunity to share what I love with younger students. I allow my experience to shine through because I want them to see the opportunities science can offer. I am confident I can take PJS to the next level. That is because I am not alone. Each team member of PJS has a passion in advanced math/science and has committed a large portion of their high-school lives to PJS. Each of us is equally driven to help our students. Every week, we meet to plan the next lesson and reflect on what we did well/what we can improve. We spend our free time emailing potential donors/local businesses and looking for fun experiments. We take turns teaching lessons and buying materials, and we listen to and respect each other.

The Fearless Changemaker

I am driven and fearless in seizing opportunities. My proudest accomplishments revolve around my science research and Portland Junior Scientists. My elementary teacher introduced me to science projects/fairs. Since then, I have contacted PhD researchers worldwide, proposing scientific investigations, asking for mentorship and lab access. The “no’s” I receive do not discourage me. I continue to network and create a scientific support system to execute my research. I have done science projects at Oregon State for 5 years and interned at a US Dept of Energy lab. My proudest moment was competing at the Intel International Science Fair. I placed 2nd and received scholarships. I have also competed in other international fairs and conferences. I proactively look for opportunities to share my work with scientists and students because I love it. These opportunities changed my life and instilled in me the importance of education. I saw science being dramatically cut back in local elementary schools, and I urgently took the initiative to start PJS. Finding and executing a $5,000 grant from Pepsi last year exemplifies my ability to get work done. I have the strongest team standing with me, already building partnerships throughout our community. Tara, a team member, recently received a full-ride ROTC scholarship to study astrophysics. We have science-related dreams that fuel us to reach out to bring science to under-served children worldwide.

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$10k Bonus Grant REI Adventure Trip

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