By Devon Orenstein
Chemistry is everywhere. From lighting a match to cleaning with steel wool to solving climate change challenges, we rely every day on chemical reactions and processes. Since I had this light bulb moment during the first chemistry class I took my sophomore year in high school, I have been exploring opportunities to pursue chemistry as a career. With a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degree, I know I can make a positive impact on the world.
After that first class, I took AP chemistry and interned for my chemistry teacher. Both experiences confirmed my interest in making chemistry into my job. Conversations with my teacher about possible pathways led me to chemical engineering – a broad field that could take me anywhere from pharmaceuticals to bioengineering to improving fish populations. I am currently planning to refine my pathway while attending Washington State University in Pullman where I can take classes of interest as well as gain hands-on experiences through internships and school clubs.
I was recently honored for my commitment to a STEM career during Washington State STEM Signing Day, presented by Boeing. The virtual event celebrated 49 high school seniors from across the state for our choices to pursue STEM education at technical programs, two- and four-year colleges, and universities. Like signing days for athletes, we each signed a letter of commitment to our STEM goals. As seniors whose high school careers were interrupted by the pandemic, it feels all the more exciting to be recognized for our perseverance and academic achievements.
Why are STEM students worth honoring? For one thing, we need more of them. The future of our state depends on more students getting opportunities to explore and succeed in STEM-related careers – from nursing and engineering to cybersecurity and computer science – fields my fellow honorees are pursuing. According to Washington Roundtable, an organization of CEOs and senior executives across our state, employers here will produce 373,000 net new jobs here over just the next five years. Most of those jobs will require a post high school credential and, no doubt, a big percentage will be in STEM fields. The opportunities are out there waiting for us in Washington. We just need to get ready for them.
If you are a student interested in STEM in any way, my best piece of advice would be to put yourself out there. Take classes that sound interesting. Read books that seem cool. Talk with teachers about courses and career options. Get out there and try new things. And even when you have doubts because the path is hard, keep at it. Our communities and our state are depending on our skills and passion for a brighter future.
Devon Orenstein is a senior at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane. She plans to pursue chemical engineering at Washington State University in the fall.