NexGeneGirls Guest Post: Reflecting on My STEM-Filled SummerBack
By: Jaqueline Chavarria
At the end of my school year in 2020, I got an email about summer internships. There were lots of interesting options, but I already had my heart set on doing something related to a career in medicine. The headline for one internship with a group called NexGeneGirls read, “Do you want to learn more about science and get paid?” That was an attention grabber. I read the description and fell in love with it, so I decided to apply. I was accepted into the program and NexGeneGirls placed me in an internship with Nektar Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company here in San Francisco.
I didn’t know what to expect out of this internship. However, I knew what most excites me about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is that it’s a whole new world full of possibilities. I could be a biology teacher, a nurse, a scientist – I could be so many things and still be in the STEM field. So, I went for it.
There were a lot of different activities in the program. My favorite was speed networking, where a lot of people came to talk to us, and we could talk to them about a variety of career development topics. What inspired me about this event was hearing about people reaching for their goals no matter what obstacles came up. That’s how I want to be.
One challenge that often comes up with career development is understanding exactly what you want to do. For example, before I started the program, I knew I wanted to be a nurse practitioner. However, the NexGeneGirls program and my research on cancer treatments like immunotherapy, showed me that there is so much more to being a nurse and so many other possible career paths in medicine. The information was super useful and inspired me to want to learn more.
To help tackle challenges like this, it’s helpful to have a good mentor by your side, which are hard to come by. I had a good relationship with my mentor at Nektar, Wildaliz Nieves. She is a scientist. Wildaliz helped me understand what I didn’t know and encouraged me along the way to finish the program. She supported me with my biggest achievement this summer, which was the presentation at the end of the program. By the end of the six weeks, I was able to present knowledge I learned about recent cytokine development and explain it to my peers in the program, something that they teach at the university level. As a junior in high school, not many students have had the opportunity to accomplish what I have achieved.
To those who are interested in pursuing STEM, I would say not to follow people’s stereotypes. If STEM is your passion, and it’s what you want to do, do it and don’t be scared. I know of people who didn’t get this internship or even failed one chemistry test and they let that obstacle bring them down. In my experience – I can say ‘don’t let it bring you down.’ Think about what else you can do to chase your dreams. It’s important to recognize that you are not alone and working with others is a beautiful thing. Even though I knew my NexGeneGirls peers for only two months, we all made a bond virtually. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about STEM and have these experiences thanks to NexGeneGirls.