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Let’s do brunch: Lively panel with Society alumni in downtown D.C.

By Aparna K. Paul

Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of the Society moderated an alumni panel during Regeneron STS. Photo courtesy of Society for Science & the Public/Jessica Yurinko.

As the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2018 finalists build bonds and experiences of their own, STS competition alumni from every decade since the start of the competition, reconnected with alums and Society staff at the Hamilton Live in downtown D.C. One of the most notable guests this past Sunday was Rodman Jenkins, Westinghouse STS 1944, one of the earliest classes in the history of the competition.

While guests enjoyed brunch, Maya Ajmera, CEO and President of the Society, Publisher of Science News and STS 1985 alum, moderated a panel focused on medicine, technology and innovation and how these three fields are critical to how we evolve as a species. Panelists included alumni, Michael Batista, CEO & Founder, Quantified Care, Inc., (Intel STS 2008; Intel ISEF 2008; DCYSC 2002, 2004), Daniel Durand, Vice President of Clinical Strategy and Chair of Radiology, LifeBridge Health System, (Westinghouse STS 1997) and Anna Penn, Director of Perinatal Neuroprotection Program & of Translation Medicine at the Children’s National Medical Center (Westinghouse STS 1985).

STS alumni from every decade of the competition enjoyed the alumni brunch.
STS alumni from every decade of the competition enjoyed the alumni brunch. Photo courtesy of the Society for Science & the Public/Jessica Yurinko.

All three panelists focus their work in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas where social determinants of health are a hot topic. Some concerns mentioned were the risks of preterm birth, pediatric asthma, lack of clean water and access to medical care for underserved populations. Daniel spoke about the Baltimore-Harrisburg Expressway, I-83, that runs through the city of Baltimore, where life expectancy has astounding variance. While the life expectancy is 88 years old in one area of the city, it is only 68 in another. Daniel was motivated by the health disparities he saw. He wanted to do something larger for the world.

Michael added that he also wanted to work with low-income communities through building a business focused on health. However he found it challenging in the early stages of development when he received pushback for focusing more on commercializing his idea rather than following the more traditional Ph.D. path of research.

Anna talked about work they are doing in her lab, where she invites high school students to explore science like she did at their age. She wanted to find tools to help preterm infants breathe.

Additionally, panelists shared words of wisdom and guidance for those who might follow in their footsteps.

Rodman Jenkins, a Westinghouse STS 1944 alum, attended the brunch.
Rodman Jenkins, a Westinghouse STS 1944 alum, attended the brunch. Photo courtesy of The Society for Science & the Public/Jessica Yurinko.

“When I was doing Westinghouse STS, there were newspapers that said how nice that I was a girl scientist. I am a scientist and I’m a girl, so what? It has become very clear to me that you should stick to whatever interests you no matter what other pressures get placed on you,” Anna said. At a time when women remain a minority in STEM fields, Anna’s powerful words resonated with the crowd.

Michael added, “Constantly try to find mentors or people who are smarter than you to work with. Then you can get to a level you could not have gotten to on your own.” He also shared that as a young man, competing in STS and other science fairs, helped him to develop problem-solving skills that he still uses today.