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Meet Dr. Erika Angle of Science from Scientists in Bedford

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Erika Angle.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dr. Angle. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am the Founder and Executive Director of Science from Scientists, a non-profit organization that sends real, charismatic scientist into classrooms to teach STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math). Through our interactive programs and lessons, we work to get students not only engaged but excited about science.

Subsequently, we tend to see dramatic improvements in test scores and students who are much better prepared for advanced science classes in middle and high school.

I was in the 6th grade when I first realized my passion for science and knew that is what I wanted to dedicate my life to. My English teacher created a lesson plan for some of the students who had missed a recent field trip. She gave us books like Jurassic Park and Andromeda Strain to read, to give a little change to the typical lesson plan and challenge our reading past the usual curriculum. To accompany the reading, we also did simple science experiments, which immediately sparked my interest in a science centric career.

I began creating my own experiments, testing my own hypotheses and reaching out to local biotechnology companies. This was a little scary at 11 years old, but I’d call and explain that I was interested in a mentor to assist me with a science fair project. Though most companies never called back, the director of a Local Public Health Laboratory agreed to help me.

Working with a mentor focused on public health, I began to be inspired by my personal experience. I got sick with the flu and delved into research to better understand the science behind it. My curiosity and commitment grew with every passing year, and I began winning fairs and awards. My continued involvement in the science community presented me with a plethora of role models, mentors, and educators, all of whom helped me to learn and grow. This brought me to where I am today. Through all the successful science fairs and failed attempts and hypotheses, I learned that you win some and you lose some but you meet people all along the way. It is all the wins, losses and mentors that made me who I am today and inspired me to foster similar opportunities for children, who need STEM education now more than ever.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As a scientist, failure is not something that might happen – it will. Starting from a young age, I learned that frustration was part of the glory and I was fortunate enough to have had both individual and peer support to keep me going. As a female scientist in a male dominated career, I experienced anti-female stereotyping specific to my field, as well as the pressures that are put on women by media and society.

There are numerous moments where students (especially girls) can fall off path because someone tells them they can’t do something. Though I had many great mentors, I also remember hearing things like “being a scientist is too hard and boring” from peers and people that I looked up to. This kind of negativity can have a huge impact on a young aspiring person, particularly if it is coming from people that they admire. It is often challenging to be challenged, but learning to take constructive criticism and criticism itself as a learning opportunity, was one of the greatest lessons ever imparted on me.

Some people are motivated by other people telling them they can’t do something and proving them wrong, for me it was about a personal drive to succeed no matter what obstacles I faced.

Science from Scientists – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The goal of Science from Scientists is to ensure our nation’s youth remain competitive globally in STEM fields. We do this by bringing real scientists into classrooms to present exciting, informative and engaging lessons and experiments. We want to empower future generations with the tools and knowledge they will need to solve day-to-day problems while incorporating STEM.

According to the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the US is not producing enough STEM undergraduate degrees to match the forecasted demand for STEM professionals. Lack of content competency and low interest in STEM are often cited as top drivers of this workforce gap.

Science from Scientists focuses on the elementary and middle school ages for a few reasons. This age is crucial for social pressure, lack of science in schools, lack of parental involvement and a need for role models. Our scientist are professionals that come from various backgrounds, including gaming development, cancer research and engineering, just to name a few. Our goal is to open the minds of these students and give them someone to admire, while shining light on the fun side of STEM. There is quite a bit of data showing that children decide what they want to do, or at least what they want to avoid, by the time they’ve come through middle school. This is why we focus so heavily on this age group. These are the years for early self-discovery, and if you don’t plant the seeds for STEM at the right time, it will be much more difficult to engage and or grow the professionals we need down the road.

It is one thing to talk about our program qualitatively, but as scientists, we like to measure everything – our programs and lessons are no exception. At the beginning of each class, we quiz the students to see what they know and quiz them afterward to see the growth in the learning curve from the lessons. We see improvement in standardized test, as much as 14% and we get feedback both from the students and teachers on how Science from Scientists is impacting the students’ education and appreciation for science.

We have been so fortunate to have incredibly brilliant scientist that dedicate themselves to the elementary and middle school level. Without talented and passionate individuals, Science from Scientists would not be where it is today, now having 52 amazing team members. In addition to our success with our staff, we have come across opportunities with partners that exceeded our initial ideality of a nonprofit donor. We look at our donors as true partners on this journey towards spreading STEM awareness and the importance of these partnerships cannot be undervalued. Partnerships help us continue to grow and expand our reach and offerings to more and more children nationwide.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Life is full of unplanned events and the ability of being flexible and taking advantage of them, in my mind, is how someone can be “lucky.” Science from Scientists became the official educational partner of the America’s Cup Endeavour Program based on a chance meeting in a rainstorm. Our first funder became engaged with Science from Scientists based on a chance encounter at a Science from Scientists event many years ago. We have an MN office because an individual happened to be listening to NPR when a story about Science from Scientists aired. For each one of these events, we were lucky that these individuals crossed our path, but it turned into something important because we took advantage of the opportunity. Sometimes I wonder how many opportunities like that have come by that I didn’t act on and hope that I can always be open and ready to act on as many opportunities as possible.

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