Website presents portraits of careers to engage middle schoolers

PhD student’s project showcases science careers, provides middle schoolers with role models in the field

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 30, 2014

The last thing most middle school children daydream about during their Earth Science class is how their coursework relates to environmental scientists’ research. But that may soon change after Lindsay Kuhn, a fourth-year Materials Science PhD  student, unveils her website — the Inventing Heron Project. ­Currently in the works, the site aims to provide information about careers through personal narratives and video interviews. The site also intends to nurture students’ career aspirations and will feature a section describing how to use education to prepare for a career in the real world.


The invention, the inspiration

Kuhn developed the idea of Inventing Heron over a year ago while teaching seventh grade science at Nathan Bishop School, a public school in Providence, under a grant from the National Science Foundation. “After teaching for one year, I didn’t feel like I was making a significant impact,” she said, adding that students were not very motivated to do their work. Kuhn thought a website displaying personal accounts of careers would motivate students to connect with their classroom material.

“When you see the diversity in human experience, it makes you more excited about living,” Kuhn said. “I want people to learn about careers from people doing them,” she added.

In October, Kuhn reached out to other graduate students on campus to form a group of seven students working to help develop Inventing Heron. The NSF sponsored the startup, and the team is now fundraising and applying for grants, Kuhn said.

Nicole Meehan GS, who is in charge of the website’s social media, said  she has noticed increased interest in the website. “I would have definitely benefitted from something like this,” she said. “It may have been nice to know at an earlier stage that it’s not bad to try something out.”

Kuhn, who worked as an engineer, journalist, spacecraft designer and freelance writer before coming to Brown to complete a PhD focusing on lead-free piezoelectrics, said a website like Inventing Heron would have helped her figure out her future.

Kathryn Grive, a molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry PhD student, is currently working to develop a section of the website  devoted to women in science. From a young age and throughout her undergraduate experience, she had older women acting as mentors, she said. These women supported her desire to become a scientist and advised her to make an informed decision about going into research before getting a PhD.

“Having the positive influence of role models early on is key to provide motivation,” Grive said. She added that she hopes Inventing Heron will act as a resource for kids without these opportunities, because currently on the web “there is nothing comprehensive and personalized that tells you day in and day out what (a career) is like.”

Though Inventing Heron is designed so middle schools students can read and understand it, Grive said she hopes students in high school and college will use the site as well. “As a middle-schooler, you don’t really know what science is,” she said. Before entering high school, reading about people who use science in their everyday lives can “make your coursework more meaningful,” she added.


Coming soon…

The website is expected to be live late this summer and available for students to use to prepare for the next academic year, Grive said.

The team is currently in contact with the Office of Admissions and the Swearer Center for Public Service to compile information aimed at helping kids think about preparing for college, Kuhn said. Team members are also collecting and transcribing career biographies so viewers can search by category to find jobs that may interest them. About 150 people have already contributed narratives about their job experiences, answering questions such as, “What is the best part about your job?” and “What advice do you have for someone going into your field?”

“We would love people from the Brown community to contribute,” Kuhn said. “There is no limitation — the more diverse the better.”


A previous version of this article misstated the name of the website. It is the Inventing Heron Project, not Inventing Heron. The Herald regrets the error.

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