STT: Beyond the Science

by Shayla Ho

As the school year comes to an end, my time at STT, the Scientific Tools and Techniques Program, also ends. Reflecting on the semester I had with STT, my mind doesn’t drift to all the different science fields I was taught. I think about the people I’ve met, the practical experiences I had, and everything beyond the science classes I sat in. To honor all the wonderful memories STT has given me, I would like to dedicate my last article of the school year to this program. 

When STT was first introduced to me in eighth grade, it was just some brochure thrown onto my lap. It was riddled with lively pictures of experiments and enticing promises, like developing “long-lasting friendships” and gaining exposure to “many fields of science and science careers.” The program was sold to me as someplace where I could explore other fields of science beyond biology. I would be rotating through different modules of science like astronomy, botany, ecology, and more. While doing fun experiments, I could be earning two science credits in a single semester. After a few quick skims of the website, I decided to commit to Fernbank Science Center’s program.

Science was never my strong suit, but I thought an environment with this much hands-on learning could ignite an interest in me. Writing essays with research and references to support my ideas was new to me, yet I pushed on. STT turned out to require a lot of work for something I planned on a whim. Months sped by as my excitement for the program gradually lessened. Impatience aside, my dampened hope was eventually reignited. The acceptance email felt like the first win of many for my high school career.

STT would not start until January, and summer break eventually pushed the program to the back of my mind. By the time it was finally a priority again, I came to the cold realization that I’d be meeting random people from all over the county, with no promise I’d be with my friends. The nerves lingered, following me all the way until my first day of STT. After forcing myself to wake up at 5:30 AM, I felt comforted being with all my friends on the bus. However, as we walked into the planetarium, the comfort felt short-lived. Even my friends’ familiarity couldn’t soothe that gut-wrenching anxiety. I took everything in – the number of people, the different teachers, and the entirely new vibe the science center had. Interestingly, it gave me a feeling of cleanliness I wasn’t familiar with at Tucker. Through all the anxiety, it was a breath of fresh air, comforting me while being a punch to the gut. That feeling stayed with me throughout those first two months. 

I was put into a group when I arrived; at first, I thought it was over for me. I’ve been with the same herd of people for three consecutive years–they knew me and I knew them. I was used to staying in my comfort zone. When I was put into a group of strangers, I felt like that comfort was ripped from me. However, I quickly realized how genuinely smart these new people were. They did not possess the same kind of wit I had always been surrounded by; their minds were wired in ways I didn’t think I could ever comprehend. This was my first experience with imposter syndrome.

Even though my mind convinced me I would feel less than forever, I melded more with the group with every new module. I joined conversations, starting with a few words at a time. I had put these people on a pedestal, but the more time I spent talking to them, I began to humanize them. I could’ve cried tears of joy when I realized these teens were just as awkward and weird as me. Sometimes, I would pause to just look at my group. Everyone’s personalities were so different, but it just worked. I forgot how refreshing new people could be. I was clowned on for going to Tucker High a lot, but it made me wonder how different their lives were from mine. Our differences were always highlighted in our separate answers to assignments; bits of their personal lives always shone through. It felt like gaining consciousness when I was seven all over again. 

My peers were amazing. I would miss them after we leave, but I think my teachers are the ones who will truly leave a dent. The teachers at STT all had a passion I had not yet experienced at Tucker Middle and High. Not to say all of my teachers so far had been bland, but the teachers at STT looked like the only reason they got up was to share and teach their passions. You could see the love for science in each of their eyes. I overcame my fear of asking questions with them around; I have them to thank for undoing years of quietness. In every teacher, I saw bits of who I want to become.

STT hasn’t ended yet, but it has given me so many role models, a sense of community, and a deeper love of science. I’m bummed that my freshman year is over, but I want to carry these lessons throughout my entire life. Looking back on it, I’m so glad I chose to do STT on a whim, and I hope it will inspire others to try new things too. Thinking back, I reflect on all the good times I would never have experienced had I never taken the chance. Instead of lingering on “what if?”, go for whatever activities interest you. It certainly worked for me. 

The time will pass anyway.