At the finish line, a new horizon awaits
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It all started right around sophomore year for Samantha Stokes, a Summit High School senior who graduates Saturday. It was then that she decided to pursue science – particularly medicine or biomedical engineering.
The Breckenridge resident sat in Drew Chambers’ Athletic Training I class and realized something that would guide her through the next few years of the International Baccalaureate program and govern her school choice.
“I realized I loved looking at the human body and how it worked and how everything fit together,” Stokes said. She intends to attend the Colorado School of Mines next year to study bioengineering or chemistry, with the intention of moving into the medical field either as an engineer or physician.
During her time in high school at Farmer’s Korner, she enrolled in Athletic Training II, higher level biology courses and, her senior year, took higher level chemistry, which she said, “tied it all together.”
And it wasn’t just Chambers who fostered Stokes’ interest in science and medicine.
“I babysit for Dr. (Elizabeth) Winfield,” Stokes said. “Just some of the conversations I’ve had with her have really piqued my interest with where you can go (in the field).”
For the IB Diploma Program, students can choose three tracks – music, art or science. Together, they take the base curriculum of English, math, history and theory of knowledge courses, and extend their knowledge into their chosen track.
“My brain works like an engineer, so I’m interested in going further with it,” Stokes said. Her high school coursework has challenged her to study not only the mechanics of science, but also the ethics surrounding it.
An example is her year-long Diploma Program project, when she wrote 4,000 words on stem cell research.
“You hear about it on the news and I didn’t feel very educated on it,” Stokes said. “I wanted to be able to look at both sides … and have the facts to draw my own conclusions.”
Her conclusion was that stem cell research has plenty of uses in the field, but any applications must be balanced with valid ethical concerns.
Passion is what drives Stokes to consider engineering and medicine as career fields.
But it’s not just about the science, she said. It’s also about the idea of helping people.
Which is why, if she chooses the bioengineering track, she aims to go into prostheses.
“A friend of my family’s was telling me about a guy at Mines who created a fully functioning hand for people who do not have functioning fingers when they’re born,” she said. “It’s something that really helps people. I suppose that’s something about me, that I just love being able to help people, which is probably why biomedical engineering as well as becoming a doctor are appealing.”
However, her feelings about entering the science field go beyond intrigue and excitement. There’s also an inkling of fear.
She’s a minority in a man’s world in the science and engineering field.
It’s a “dismal” ratio, said Karen Panetta, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Women in Engineering fellow and past worldwide chair. She’s the editor of the organization’s magazine and was the 2011 recipient of the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision award.
Panetta said the female to male ratio peaked 10 years ago and is now at its all-time low since then, at 18.2 percent of all engineering degrees being awarded to women. Most women enter the fields Stokes is considering because they can clearly see how knowledge can be applied for a greater good.
Despite being far outnumbered, it’s important women face the challenge and stay in the field, because “their contributions and perceptions add a whole new perspective,” Panetta said, explaining that minivans are now designed for the safety of women and children instead of crash dummies sized at 5 foot, 10 inches and 165 pounds. She said young women like Stokes can promote engineering by showing off achievements through programs like Nerd Girls, designed to inspire and encourage other young women.
“It is a tad intimidating and makes me a little nervous,” Stokes said about her upcoming endeavor, “but it excites me to know that I am pioneering in such a male dominated area.”
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