Youth Conferences

Princeton visit brings Latino teens to science

By Giri Nathan, Special Writer
The Princeton Packet
Posted: Monday, June 14, 2010 5:42 PM EDT
PRINCETON — When asked why he liked science, eighth-grader Matthew Tyler Dumbrique replied, “I like to ponder many things.”

Matthew, of Perth Amboy, was one of over 100 Latino middle school students who came to Princeton University on Friday to explore careers in science at the Role Model Bureau Youth Conference held by the group Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement. At the conference, Latino professionals in a range of scientific disciplines explained their work to the youngsters and urged them to excel academically.
”To address these formidable problems that your generation is going to have to solve requires a relentless pursuit of excellence — starting right now,” said Princeton sociology professor Marta Tienda, the keynote speaker.
HISPA organized this second annual conference of lectures and informative workshops. The group seeks to provide positive role models for Latino students.
”That’s kind of the basis of HISPA: You can see, all of us, were just like you so many years ago. We’ve done so many things; can you imagine what you can do?” asked HISPA President Ivonne Diaz-Claisse, who holds a doctorate in math.
Alicia Abella, executive director at AT&T Labs, promoted the sciences by emphasizing their creative nature.
”In order to be innovative, you have to be a kid sometimes,” she said. “Don’t think outside the box; look at the box and tell me what you can make with that box,” she said, alluding to children’s tendency to open up a brand-new toy and instead amuse themselves with the packaging.
Dr. Abella’s talk also sought to dispel the media’s negative portrayal of science, as she sees it. She told the students that anyone could be a scientist, that one didn’t have to be white or white-haired or look like Einstein. To prove her point, she presented a humorous slideshow that juxtaposed pictures of attractive scientists and movie stars, and then asked the students to guess which was which. She noted that an old photo of Werner Heisenberg, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1932, bore a striking resemblance to Matt Damon.
The middle schoolers were also separated into smaller workshops, which included an exploration of NASA careers and a hands-on attempt at endovascular intervention.
”Doesn’t it remind you of PlayStation?” said biomedical engineer Fernando Yuste, emphasizing manual dexterity as he taught the students how to treat a fake “body” named Frank, a series of plastic tubes meant to mimic human vessels. As one student struggled to thread the catheter through Frank’s vessels, Yuste urged him to “play more PlayStation.”
The conference exposed students to new feats of science. Eighth-grader Lulliam Ribiero, of Perth Amboy, marveled at how minimally invasive Mr. Yuste’s procedure was.
”You don’t need to open the body to do surgery,” he said.
Alexandre DaRocha Jr., also of Perth Amboy, said the conference had enhanced his appreciation for the subject matter. “We didn’t know a lot (about science) before, but now that we know, it’s interesting,” he said.
Alexandre, who hopes to be a mechanical engineer one day, is looking ahead to high school and college. He was impressed with the Princeton campus.
”I like the college, all the trees. It makes you feel good,” he said.
That is the kind of outlook — confident, college-minded — that HISPA seeks to instill in its youth.
Dr. Tienda requested that all the students pursue at least one post-secondary degree, and after her address, a panel of current Latino college students offered advice and assuaged worries about university life.
Dr. Diaz-Claisse wrapped up the conference with an analogy to chaos theory, the topic of her dissertation. She alluded to the butterfly effect; even tiny changes have an impact, she said.
”That’s why I truly believe in what HISPA is doing. Because I think that when we visit your school and tell a story, we somehow push you into the right trajectory,” she said.
Posted: Monday, June 14, 2010 5:42 PM EDT