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Reflections from a Scholar: Sarah Usman

“Think critically, solve creatively, learn continuously.”

My fellow scholars in attendance at the STEM in Industry conference last weekend will remember this quote from Dr. Kathy Naasz, the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at the New Jersey Innovation Institute.

Throughout the conference, I was instructed to see what others couldn’t see. To have the courage to ask questions and not be afraid to challenge authority. This particularly rang true upon hearing the experiences of our esteemed STEM Entrepreneurship panel. Yidian Liu, Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer at PolyGone Systems, would not have been able to keep her idea of reducing microplastic waste in waterways alive had she listened to her Princeton University professors and quit her startup idea.

My favorite part of the conference most definitely had to be the STEM Speed Networking event. It was refreshing to have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with STEM professionals and gain unique advice tailored to their own academic and career ambitions. I resonated with the experiences of Tatiana Ospina, a Quality Fields Engineer at Panasonic, who, like me, has faced discrimination in the workplace for being both a woman and minority in STEM. Her advice—to speak with confidence and ensure your voice is heard—empowered me to think differently about being perceived negatively in a STEM workplace and to use those experiences to make positive change.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the conference was the importance of working as a team—whether it be through the groups we were placed in during STEM Speed Networking, the startups founded by members of the STEM in Industry Panel, or working on our research projects towards the end of the conference—the need to form connections with like-minded individuals to grow our own ambitions was evident. As I proceed forward to our next, and final, NJ Governor’s STEM Scholars Conference, I hope to not only cherish but implement the valuable advice I have gained from STEM professionals in the industry and use it to “think critically, solve creatively, and learn continuously.”

Written by Sarah Usman

2022-2023 Scholar

Sarah Usman is a senior at West-Windsor Plainsboro High School North. As President and co-founder of her school's Muslim Student Association, she has worked with multiple non-profit organizations to advocate for social justice in the local community as well as unify the Muslim student body at her school. She is a member of her school's chapter of the Waksman Student Scholars Program, where she conducts DNA sequence analysis of genes from Landoltia punctata (Duckweed) using bioinformatic web-based tools to determine its viability as a potential source of biofuel. Sarah is authoring a paper on cardiovascular disease prevalence in South Asian populations by conducting a literary analysis of multiple publications and contacting various international health departments and medical departments to obtain cholesterol and lipid data. She is currently training to become an Emergency Medical Technician and hopes to volunteer at her local rescue squad. In the future, Sarah aspires to use her interests in computational biology and bioinformatics to create screening technologies that can facilitate in early detection of chronic illnesses.


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