Science Fair Journey Of An Award Winning Canadian Female Scientist

It can start with a spark, a moment of curiosity. It can start while discovering innovative ideas come to life. It can start with a question raised, a clip from a show, a game, and, in this case, a poster. The discussion of how to get more women interested in STEM fields, commonly known as Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, continues as does the struggles to figure out the “how”. As a mission to encourage more girls and young women to follow their curiosity in the rewarding fields of STEM, it is imperative to bring to surface lived experiences of other young women and expose their reality of the journey involved in any of these fields. As Canadians it makes it for a sweeter reality to know that an aspiring young woman scientist has represented Canada internationally at Science Fairs bringing home awards for her scientific discoveries.

Jessie MacAlpine has done all of that, all because of her love for science. She is a great example, a great mentor to girls and young women who may have that curious thought of what is it like to be a scientist. She is a leader and an inspiration to little girls who dream that one day they can too become successful while making a difference though science.

I hope that her story will encourage girls and young women to pursue their dreams and take on challenges because making a difference is just as rewarding as the journey to leadership.

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My science fair journey began seven years ago with a single poster, spotted on my way to a student parliament meeting in my elementary school. Since then, that piece of paper has allowed me to investigate climate change, genetics, herbicides and malaria in basements and laboratories around the world; taking me across the country and across oceans to meet outstanding young scientists from every walk of life.

After spending the summer living and researching in Adelaide, Australia, I was honoured to represent Canada internationally at both the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Prague, Czech Republic in 2013 and the Feria Cientifica del Ingenio in Panama City early this year. Both events offered me the opportunity to learn about different cultures, explore new countries, experience new languages and most importantly, learn about the novel research being completed by each country’s young scientists.

The European Union Contest for Young Scientist sees participation from the European Union and several international countries, including Canada, USA, China, Egypt, New Zealand and South Korea. The city of Prague was a beautiful backdrop for a fantastic event, including an evening at the Senate of the Czech Republic and tours of the Old Town. Each country sends only a select few of their finest young scientists, resulting in a phenomenal display of research across every discipline. A common trend with young scientists, the students were extremely passionate about their work, and it was incredible to hear the motivation behind each of their studies. I was delighted to win the International Cooperation Prize for the best international research on display, a great way to end a phenomenal week abroad.

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The Feria Cientifica del Ingenio on the other hand, saw participation from all of the Latin countries spanning Central and South America. As the representative of Canada and the USA, with limited Spanish skills, it was certainly a challenge to present my research and interact with the other students, but it offered each of us a chance to practice the other’s language. The weather was absolutely fantastic and a welcome break from the Toronto winter. Again, the students were brilliant and passionate about science and their enthusiasm infectiously filled the exhibit hall; you could always hear the excited chatter of students discussing each other’s project. We visited the Panama Canal, saw the Old Town and the ocean. Our hotel was breathtaking and the Panamanian hospitality was unparalleled. This was the first time the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair has ever sent a student to Panama and it was an incredibly unique experience of which I am very proud to have been a participant. The international students were unable to compete for prices, allowing for the opportunity to simply share my love of science and passion for my results. In fact, being able to present my work in Panama offered a new perspective on drugs potential impact if it continues to be successful throughout mouse and clinical trials. Speaking with students, parents, teachers and judges with hands on experience with malaria, seeing their loved ones fall ill to the disease, was incredibly moving. No matter how many statistics or books one reads about a topic, you can never truly understand its impact until you speak with those individuals who have seen what it is capable of destroying.

Together, these two experiences offered closure to my science fair experiences, allowing me to successfully represent Canada for the last time as a young scientist. Though I will continue to be involved in the science fair, it will now be in a mentorship role as an Ambassador at Canada-Wide Science Fair 2014. I look forward to playing a role in ensuring each and every student has a science fair experience as positive and inspirational as my own.

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Personally, my participation in science fair opened doors to rooms I couldn’t even imagine. As a product of the science fair community, I can attest to the power it can have on an individual’s career and most importantly, their character. Having the honour of meeting outstanding young students from around the world has allowed me to understand the true power of youth. Young scientists are the most passionate and amiable individuals I’ve ever met, and hearing students talk about their research is truly inspiring and allowed me and countless others to develop a deep appreciation for the scientific process and the power of an inquisitive mind. Having the motivation and ability to pursue my ideas is thanks to the inspiration I’ve received seeing the incredible things these young scientists are able to accomplish when they are provided with the right opportunities. As my science fair career comes to an end and I begin to pursue more professional research, my only hope is that I am able to encourage other students to foster their curiosity and begin researching at a young age. Science may not be for everyone, but the creativity, confidence and cooperation instilled through participating in these programs is something from which everyone can benefit.

I am excited to see what the future holds for Jessie. So far it looks very promising. I am also excited to see her involved in encouraging other young women to pursue their passion for science. This in itself makes Jessie a great leader.

How did you discover your love for science?

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