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Self Discovery, Creativity Key to STEM Passion

By Zain Kamal, 2022 Governor's STEM Scholar Imagine a world where we taught STEM like the arts. Instead of forcing students to sit still and memorize equations to do well on exams, what if we let them pursue their natural curiosities and go through the process of discovery for themselves? You may think that lab classes provide that stimulation, but whether students are dissecting frogs or mixing chemicals, what can someone really learn when they're forced to follow a list of prewritten directions with a predetermined conclusion in mind? Ask a math or physics researcher and they'll rave about the beauty of their discipline. And yet, rarely do our students feel the same way in the classroom. Never do they get to experience the frustration of an artist, creative breakthroughs, or the feeling of being overwhelmed by an almost painful beauty.

It’s not like students aren’t capable of tackling more advanced problems. Over the past decade, we've seen big figures in industry and academia establish their own independent STEM programs that ditch the traditional, memorization-based educational experience for a more creative and independent research-minded approach to learning. From Google and Microsoft offering remote AI internships over the school year to universities opening up their biology and chemistry labs over the summer, these programs all believe in giving young scientists the tools to tackle real-world problems and pursue their passion to make a difference in the world instead of endlessly studying for exams — and it works! High school students with no prior research experience have written original papers and been published in official journals, all with a bit of time and mentorship. Who better to take up this task of inspiring the next generation of scientists than prestigious researchers who know from experience the value of learning to embrace confusion and failure as exciting opportunities to learn something new?