Solebury STEM Concentration Q&A with Britta Milks and Jan Mejia-Toro ’23

Jeannette Eckhardt

Offered at the sophomore level and above, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Concentration at Solebury allows STEM-loving students the opportunity to go beyond the classroom offerings to take their passion and interest to the next level through hands-on opportunities and experiences. This concentration is a constantly evolving program that allows students to put their individual stamp on what they do and tailor the concentration to match their interests and passions. 

Students work with the STEM co-directors Britta Milks and Cari Nelson P’24 to design a variety of experiences that will challenge and engage them. To take a deeper dive into this concentration, we caught up with Britta and current STEM Concentration student Jan Mejia-Toro ’23. 
 

What unique opportunities does this concentration present to students? 

Britta: Students can hyper-focus in a specific STEM area or take a broader path that allows them to explore all aspects of STEM. This allows the concentration to be tailored to the individual, which parallels our school philosophy. Additionally, giving back to the community has always been at the core of the Solebury School experience and the STEM Concentration is no different. Peer tutoring, planning and running sessions for our annual STEM Week, and joining or creating a STEM-related school club are just some of the opportunities that allow STEM Concentration candidates to give back while pursuing their passion.
 

What are you most excited about and excited to accomplish with this concentration?

Britta: I am excited that we created a concentration that is accessible to anyone who has a passion for STEM. While there are academic bars that need to be met in order to fulfill the concentration, Cari and I were mindful that not every student who loves STEM pursues each branch. We also feel it’s important to consider that some of the most successful STEM entrepreneurs, inventors, engineers, scientists, and mathematicians hit bumps along the way to their accomplishments. Some, like Ben Franklin, struggled in school while others, particularly women and minorities like Jocelyn Burnell and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, had societal obstacles and stereotypes they had to overcome.

Our hope is that students who pursue the STEM Concentration will realize that the possibilities of what they can do are limitless and can find inspiration from others who have paved the way before them. With that in mind, we balanced the academic requirements of the concentration with enriching activities and community-based requirements, all of which connect students more personally to what they are doing. We wanted the emphasis for the concentration to be on students experiencing STEM in a real, tangible manner. 
 

Why should a student choose to participate in the STEM concentration?

Britta: A student who feels that STEM is their passion should definitely consider this concentration as it allows them to explore STEM-related opportunities and be recognized for their endeavor when they graduate. It’s a great way for a student to confirm that they want to pursue a STEM-related major in college or conversely, they may reach the end of their work and appreciate what they have experienced while realizing they want to go in a different direction for their future.
 

What made you choose to join the STEM Concentration?

Jan: Before joining Solebury, I had always been fascinated with the idea of having a rigorous and yet still individually tailored academic experience. While I have seen this in my time at Solebury, it was not until the STEM concentration was established that I was able to take my passion for the scientific world outside of the classroom and translate it into something that not only helps my college prospects but also allows me to further immerse myself into scientific understanding as a person in the world. The concentration also has a points system, wherein a participant builds a quota of points after doing STEM-related activities. It’s a fantastic way to encourage students to engage with science in a way that is personally relevant to them. As such, I was able to include my participation in an Artificial Intelligence Bootcamp as part of my total points for the concentration’s requirements. The STEM Concentration’s high graduation requirements and excellent leadership have allowed me to pursue my love of what is most personally fulfilling to me and has helped me begin to think like a scientist well before I even take a step in a university.
 

What are you hoping to gain from this concentration?

Jan: I hope to be able to experience more of what occurs in the daily life of scientists in the Senior Project and shadowing requirement. This is a wonderful opportunity to see the real-world applications of the content that is taught in the classroom. I look forward to potentially shadowing a researcher or computer programmer to see how they creatively solve issues using scientific thinking. The points system also encourages participants to travel to STEM conferences through Solebury travel opportunities. Through these experiences, I hope to learn about some of the fascinating technologies that scientists are working on worldwide. 

After Solebury, I’m hoping to study cognitive science, computer science, and philosophy at MIT.
 

Has there been a highlight from your STEM experience so far?

Jan: Joining the Solebury Engineering and Coding Club has been a wonderful opportunity to observe the passion that other Solebury students have for their respective areas of interest. The IDEA ((Invention, Design, Engineering, and the Arts)) Lab, where the club takes place, allows students to pursue their STEM interests in new ways. Our robotics team and engineers can use the advanced tools in the space to build their creations. It’s also a wonderful space for teaching and collaboration, with ample computers and technology that foster a scientific environment.

 

For more information about Solebury’s Academic Concentrations, visit solebury.org/academics