Making STEM Accessible with Adishree Ghatare

by Veda Ramakrishnan

I’m Adishree Ghatare, a 17-year-old from San Jose, California. I go to Saint Francis High School in Mountain View and will be studying computer science in Pasadena at Caltech starting in the fall.

I have found space to explore my unique interests in science research, defining my own projects. Teaching myself the skills necessary to work through them and maintaining diligence and perseverance have tested me, allowing me to appreciate my capacity to think. It’s a feeling I believe every child should feel. However, research opportunities and guidance are not universally accessible, especially in low-income communities. Working with Cynthia Chen, a friend I met through science fairs, I planned our first library workshop and then the first after-school weekly enrichment program at a local middle school in 2017 — my freshman year. Opportunity X, our non-profit organization, was born.

How are the programs you organize helping children from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds?

Every person has the capacity and potential to create something impactful and meaningful whether that’s for oneself or one’s community or both

. Our school programs aim to create a space to encourage students to stretch and explore their creativity to discover and embrace their own capacity to be a scientist. We run weekly workshops after-school for an hour at about ten schools in the Bay Area and a few more in other states; in these, we teach scientific principles with experiments that we or often the students themselves pick out, design, and lead. Later in the year, students pick their own project idea, and we guide them through developing the experiment. The opportunity to dedicate ourselves to proving ourselves that what the textbook is saying is true is invaluable and rare at such a young age but is important.

How do you brainstorm and find ideas for potential science projects for your teaching programs?

We do a number of activities to identify students’ areas of interest which we gear our experiment ideas toward. We pick up projects from our own high school science classes and online resources. Later on, when students begin brainstorming their own ideas, they typically either pull things off from the Internet for us to work from and personalize or brainstorm freely for us to later refine.

What goal do you strive to achieve with your annual science fairs? How are they able to provide a platform for students to showcase what they have learned?

Starting out, a large part of our focus had been getting students to present their independent projects at the local county science fairs. We wanted our students to have the experience of talking to judges and for them to see and talk with professionals interested and curious about their work. However, after our first year, we recognized that spending time producing meaningful projects is far more worthwhile than the somewhat time-consuming extensive paperwork necessary to get students to the fair. We still wanted to replicate that experience for the students though, so May 2019, we held our first annual Opportunity X science fair for the four school programs we had in the Bay Area then. We invited speakers and judges, which, in a full-circle way, included my own county fair judge from middle school.

What methods do you use to reach out to students in the community interested in becoming program volunteers or team members?

We present our organization and volunteer opportunities at local volunteer fairs and at our schools’ volunteer fairs. Volunteers are the backbone of our organization; every school has an extremely unique set of students, and dedicated volunteers are absolutely vital to tailoring a program that will click with the specific group. (If you’re reading this and are interested in volunteering, please feel free to email!)

As a nonprofit, how do you acquire funding for your projects?

A decent amount comes from direct funding, helped by company matching! Some companies have programs that allow employees to pick non-profits that they will donate a good amount of money too.

Those have been especially helpful. We’ve had a few other albeit less successful initiatives, like restaurant fundraisers.

In the process of establishing your organization, were there any failures or setbacks you faced? How has this set you up for success later on?

Definitely I think there was an adjustment in focus with our programs. Going into it, we overestimated the importance of the county fair experience. Being able to take a step back and recognize how momentous these classroom experiments clarified our next steps in prioritizing the actual experiment process and the growth that comes with it. One of the moments that shifted my understanding of our work was during our strawberry DNA experiment just in the second week at our first program when a student said, "Wait, that's, like, life? Dude, Henry, that's in us too!" Those aha! moments are what matters.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future with Opportunity X?

I hope we continue to grow in depth and reach of our programs. We have school programs in five states across the nation, and I would love the extension of more