by Tajana Schneiderman
Civic duty is considered a fundamental aspect of our society. I believe, however, that civic duty extends beyond serving one’s country and into returning energy to the communities of which an individual is a member. Because of this belief, I’ve always been a part of community service.
I first started volunteering at the wee age of six – I had just learned how to play piano, so I started to play at music recitals for retired nuns. It wasn’t much, but the smiles that my rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” elicited were enough to get me hooked. By the age of 12, I was running my own program – arts and crafts with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. When I was seventeen, I was tasked with raising money to build wells in rural Vietnam. Although none of these activities were explicitly scientific, they allowed me to build a solid foundation in leadership and a valuable skill set that allowed me to engage in the outreach that I do today.
My senior year of high school, I capitalized on my experiences and started devoting time and energy to STEM fields. The first of my endeavors was tutoring. My school’s chapter of the National Honor Society (NHS) nominated me to coordinate the tutoring program. Every week, I sat in my high school’s library and answered questions fellow high-schoolers had about math and science courses. I also coordinated other tutors’ schedules. Later that year, I was accepted as a leadership council member of the INTERalliance – an organization that promotes local IT talent and encourages them to stay in the Greater Cincinnati area by giving them internship opportunities and other incentives. My work with this group allowed me to give students opportunities to learn programming and other tech skills.
When I started at The Ohio State University, I decided that being a freshman wouldn’t impact my ability to make meaningful contributions to the community. I also decided that I wanted to give back to the physics community. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school with a wonderful physics program and plenty of opportunities to get engaged in science. I was aware that not everyone had this opportunity, so I wanted to make these options available to others. Physics is awesome, and I think everyone should be able to see the beauty of it rather than the horror stories we often hear. That’s why projects like this blog are so important. When the only representation of physics is that of an impossible class no one likes, people aren’t motivated to study it. But physics is so much more – it’s a key to understanding the world and universe around us. I believe everyone should have an opportunity to see that. Besides, with more people interested in science, the diversity of people involved increases. This is a good thing, not only so that every segment of the population is represented, but because diversity in science leads to new approaches to answering questions and novel discoveries.
I first started working with the Society of Physics Students (SPS). I asked a colleague from my internship with General Electric (GE) to bring in a few hiring managers to teach students about the possibilities available in industry. In addition to telling us about the IT Leadership Program at GE, we learned about their Global Research Center – a subdivision of GE that develops technology of the future. This subdivision seeks out PhDs for their work – something ideally suited to those wanting to pursue research without academia. Then, I started the Physics Summit – a one day recruitment event for high school students. Both of these experiences allowed me to give back in different ways. The first allowed me to help out physics majors – people that help me in classes, people that are in my lab, and people that are my friends. The second allowed me to reach out to the extended community and give them an opportunity to learn about the amazing possibilities at OSU.
This past year, I was elected to the position of Outreach Coordinator for the Society of Women in Physics (SWiP). There are several things I’d like to accomplish during the remainder of the year. I will organize a toiletry drive benefiting the YWCA. In addition, I’ll run the yearly fundraiser – in the past, funds have gone to purchase microscopes for a local school, to fund the Girls Reaching to Achieve in Sports and Physics (GRASP) summer camp for middle school girls, and to fund a Wellness and Lactation room for the physics department. I also find volunteers for events. This year, we had members volunteering at the Ohio State Fair. They helped to run a booth that put on physics-based shows and demos to get kids passionate about science. They also volunteered at GRASP. Additionally, I’m the Society of Physics Students Outreach Coordinator. This position is more focused on professionally developing our students – we’ve had a graduate school application workshop and are planning on hosting several other workshops or company visits. In January, we’ll be running demonstrations for a middle school and high school group.
Both of these roles are important to me because they allow me to inform the public about science. If people are interested in the STEM fields, then they’re more likely to support any research that is done. And research needs to be supported so we can make advancements in technology that change our daily lives. If people see how much fun science (and specifically physics) can be, they’re more likely to get involved. Then we have a more diverse pool of physicists. These roles also allow me to empower existing scientists and give them opportunities to build their careers and professional selves. By creating stronger scientists, we can further science. Outreach has the capacity to inspire others and engage them in novel ways. To me, that makes it worth it.
About Tajana Schneiderman
I am a second-year undergraduate student studying Physics at The Ohio State University. Outside of class, I serve as the Outreach Coordinator for both the Society of Physics Students and the Society of Women in Physics. I also am in my second year of experimental condensed matter research with Dr. Fengyuan Yang. In my free time, I like to read, hike, and knit. When I graduate, I hope to pursue a PhD in physics.