The New York Academy of Sciences: Two Centuries of Promoting Excellence in Science

With Dr James Watson, 1965 Nobel Prize in Physiology (left), and Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society and 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (centre).

The institution that precedes the National Academy of Sciences by 20 years- the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) celebrated its 200th anniversary on May 8th!

What is the New York Academy of Sciences?

The NYAS has always been a focal point for the brightest minds. For good reason, they call themselves the world’s smartest network. Interestingly, over the past couple of years, they have turned their attention to using their unique status for promoting STEM education, through experiential learning, amongst students across the world. In light of this mission, they have established their junior academy which includes around 4000 students from over 100 countries, selected through a competitive process.

Over the past year, students enrolled in the junior academy were given the opportunity to participate in the NYAS’s “Challenge 2030” initiative. The initiative challenged to collaborate with their peers from different regions to develop a practical solution to one of the issues outlined in the 2030 global vision outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The successful finalists were invited to New York to prepare their pitches with mentors and present them to some of the top names in academia and business, including dozens of Nobel laureates, CEOs and senior executives from top companies and university administrators. The experience of presenting student projects during the bicentennial event was a very unique experience for the students, the mentors, the academy, especially since the prestigious guests were engaged in the ideas that the students were sharing.

NYAS-STEM Fellowship Partnership

At STEM Fellowship (SF), we aim to provide mentorship and experiential learning opportunities to young STEM leaders and innovators, with a focus on data science education and scholarly communication. As such, our work aligns with that of the Global STEM Alliance Initiative of the NYAS. Less than two months after reaching out to the NYAS and several meetings with their senior executives, we are now developing a multifaceted partnership that would take SF initiatives to their global audience of talented students. Amidst these discussions, senior NYAS executives invited me to attend the NYAS bicentennial event in New York, as managing director of STEM Fellowship, to further the discussions on our partnership and for me to help mentor students from the junior academy.

The Bicentennial Celebration

With Her Excellency Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the UN.

The two days of event in New York included scientific talks by top scientific minds, discussions about the future of STEM learning and a tight-knit gala event to celebrate the 200th anniversary which was attended by leading scientists, entrepreneurs, university administrators and political dignitaries. It was heart-warming to see them so engaged in addressing the most complicated challenges in relation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). During the event, I was honoured to meet and chat with some of my scientific role-models, including the likes of Dr. James Watson (Nobel prize in Physiology of 1965, one of the discoverers of the DNA double-helix structure), Dr. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (President of the Royal Society, 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the chemical structure of ribosomes) and Dr. Jerome Friedman (1990 Nobel prize in Physics for the discovery of quarks). I was honoured to chat with Dr Watson for half an hour, where he shared some fascinating insights on where he sees genetic discoveries going and on the scientific culture of my native Iran. Just as exciting was the chance to meet Ms. Indra Nooyi, the CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo and Ms. Amina Mohammed, the deputy secretary general of the UN. There were also those who I didn’t get a chance to talk to, Ted Turner (founder of TBS), and the presidents of NYU, Columbia and the AAAS. I not only used the opportunity to share the work we are doing at STEM Fellowship and our plans for a joint initiative with the academy, but I encouraged my mentees to go and present their projects to these very distinguished individuals. In particular, I found Ms. Nooyi to be incredibly gracious with her time in listening to the students and showing genuine interest in their projects.

 

With Dr Mehmood Khan, CSO and vice Chairman of PepsiCo (left), and Ms. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo (right)

Attending the bicentennial event was by far one of the coolest gatherings I have ever attended. Additionally, it shed light on current attempts at the highest level to harness the creativity of very young minds from around the world, in an attempt to prepare them for the major challenges facing humans and the earth would give the junior students access to content and challenges that STEM Fellowship has developed for data science and scholarly communication. Hopefully, this will give them more tools to further address problems, whether local or global. As of now, STEM Fellowship and the NYAS have developed a joint proposal for a Big Data Challenge that will be accessible to students across the world, through an online platform, with the theme “Sustainability: Think Global and Act Local with Big Data”. Our hope is that this will be a first major step towards a broader collaboration between our youth-run Canadian organization and one of the most well established scientific institutions in North America!

How to get Involved 

If you are a high school student and interested in applying for the NYAS Junior Academy, check out their website. Students enrolled in the Junior Academy have a unique chance of working with peers around the world, while being mentored by a STEM expert on addressing local or global challenges. They go through different modules that give them some of the required tools for dealing with these challenges. The SF-NYAS partnerships hopes to add data science and scholarly communication to the existing educational modules available to students enrolled in the academy.

If you are a high school or undergraduate student, studying in any field and interested in the work of our 200+ STEM Fellowship team, visit the STEM Fellowship website. Our summer recruitment deadline is July 14th. Special preference is given to applicants from the provinces of QC, SK, MB, NB, NF, PEI and NS, and to bilingual applicants.

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