• by Lexis Ratto & Kelly O’Kane • IDRA Newsletter • August 2019 •
Editor’s Note: High school students Lexis Ratto and Kelly O’Kane were instrumental in bringing the international Chief Science Officer (CSO) program to San Antonio through the Alamo STEM Ecosystem. IDRA now manages the program in Texas as it grows across the state.
Research says many students don’t stay in STEM because they don’t identify with STEM degrees and careers. But it is important that students see themselves in these careers or at minimum have direct access to high-quality STEM opportunities, if they decide to participate.
Dr. Stephanie Garcia at IDRA explains that a STEM identity is fragile. But it is powerful for anyone who finds interest in anything deemed innovative. She says it often starts at a young age with a very particular preference toward a tinkering toy or free-time activity and continues to develop along with personal interests.
The Chief Science Officer (CSO) program helps increase STEM interest for middle and high school students, especially with those who are not typically included in STEM programs.
Participating schools select two students to serve as their Chief Science Officers for a school year. CSOs then create plans and lead projects to support STEM programming on their campuses.
Action plans can include such strategies as coordinating field trips, hosting science nights, starting STEM-related clubs, initiating student-led civic action projects, or bringing speakers from local industries to engage students in conversations about the STEM workforce. The program helps CSOs and their peers develop strong STEM identities through tangible interactions.
My [Kelly] own STEM identity puts me in the realm of engineering, a broad category full of smaller subsets, and mine is mechanical. The CSO program affected my STEM identity in two ways: it reinforced my desire to be an engineer and helped me realize that I want to serve my community with my set of skills.
My [Lexis] STEM identity has undergone a wide range of drafts and revision before becoming something completely different. When I was younger, I marveled at layers of sediment and stone and wanted nothing more than to become a geologist. Then I became fixated with crystallography, the study of analyzing the structure and properties of crystals.
In middle school, I fell head-over-heels in love with engineering. While that genre of STEM has stayed strong with me, even to this day, the specification has been loose. I have gone back and forth between all types of engineering: chemical, mechanical, manufacturing and mechanics. Name it, and I’ve probably considered it.
It was not until the CSO program that I realized exactly what I enjoyed and admired so much about engineering: improvement. I loved the idea of taking something that was already established and advancing it into an overall more productive system. This small realization led to my pursuit of advanced manufacturing and systems of industry, in short, an industrial engineer.
We both have experienced all sides of the CSO program. One of the biggest benefits was having advocates who followed us through the program and through our graduation. Even as the first alumni of the Texas chapter, we continue to receive such amazing opportunities and resources. We connected with fantastic individuals of amazing corporations and companies, such as Tyler Schroeder of Boeing, Dr. “Rudy” Reyna from the Alamo STEM Ecosystem, and the amazing leaders at IDRA. Through these relationships, not only have we flourished, but we have also witnessed the blossoming of our younger officers. For example, one CSO produced a sort-of safe haven within his middle school to encourage kids to relax with a good book or study for an upcoming course exam. Such peer influence creates an engaging classroom environment and support system among students. The CSO program itself has been like a family to us. As Texas’ first alumni, we are more than proud.
Lexis Ratto and Kelly O’Kane, as high school students, were San Antonio’s first Chief Science Officers.
[©2019, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2019 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]