A sophomore at DePaul University studying chemistry with a minor in biology, Vanessa joined PE  for the first time this fall. Originally from Texas, she is currently our STEM Facilitator for Sisters4Science at Orozco Middle School in Pilsen. PE intern Amber Myers recently spoke to learn more about her and her experiences with Project Exploration. 

Project Exploration: I know you are originally from Texas and it is your first year with Project Exploration, but how did you first get involved?

Vanessa Rivera:  I got in contact with Syda (Director of Programs and Community Relations) through a family friend. We met before and she knew about my science background and my goals for the future. She thought the position would suit me well, so she gave me a bit of a background on PE and Orozco, and I was interested, so she gave me an interview. I really liked it and thought it was a great opportunity. I thought how I would love to be a part of this of this, because it sounds so cool! So I got started!

PE: How do you feel your work as a STEM facilitator relates to your studies in chemistry and biology?

VR: Yes, I am a chemistry major! What I would love to do, as of right now, is to go to medical school and become doctor, but there is also other possibilities. When I started to become a STEM Facilitator, I realized that teaching was pretty cool. Or, not necessarily teaching, but showing these girls these cool experiments. Seeing their excitement makes me excited. So that persuades me a bit in that area. But I still have a while to decide.

PE: Is there a memorable event, student, or group that stands out in your mind that you have worked with? Or any specific project?

VR: Yes, when I did the “Involvement Fair” (Orozco’s after school activity recruitment event), the Girls did not seem to have interest in science. So I felt I had to tell them what’s fun about science. Then a lot more girls started signing up. On the first day of class, I started talking to them a bit and the first experiment we did was making slime. They were pretty excited about that, but it was not until the next week when we made lava lamps that I was able to see how excited they were, because it was a hands on experience and they learned how it was all happening. There is this one girl, her name is Alexis. I was talking to her about projects and food coloring. I apologized that I did not explain how food coloring stains, because it was all over her hands. But she said “oh I know, I like to keep it on my hands so I can show my friends how cool it is.” And I thought that was just so great!

PE: In addition to PE showing you the teaching aspect that you previously talked about, what have you learned from working with PE youth?

VR: A lot of these girls do not really know much about science and what you can do with the science field, especially young Latina women. So I think it is great for them to see all these different aspects in science. It is really great to see their perspective change a bit.

PE: What’s next for you?

VR: Hopefully I could get into medical school, then I can go into other parts of the city and share my knowledge with other girls and be like, “Hey look at me I did it, you can do it too! It’ll be fun!”

PE: Earlier, you talked about how PE helped you learn the city and become more familiar with the area?

VR: Yeah, because I had no Idea. I even pronounced Orozco wrong at first and a girl corrected me on how to pronounce it.

PE: Is there anything else you can see yourself getting from Project Exploration?

VR: I think that networking as well. I noticed a lot of people coming in and visitors. It’s great hearing all different perspectives. This is a fantastic opportunity and I am loving every week that I go. It is really great to see the excitement these girls have. It makes me happy to see them getting excited about science. I feel they are now gravitating more to that area. They call me Ms. Vanessa, which is weird because I have never taught a class on my own before, so it is funny to hear them say Ms. Vanessa. Also, connecting with them on a personal level, like asking how their day was, asking them what they like and hearing stories about their school subjects. It is a nice change from my school work, hearing them talk about theirs.

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