Maja Fickett, a 2009 Society for Science & the Public (SSP) Fellow, is a teacher at Timberland High School in St. Stephen, South Carolina. Maja attended the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2012 (Intel ISEF), where one of her students was a finalist, this May in Pittsburgh.
What made you apply to be a SSP Fellow?
I applied to be a SSP Fellow because I saw a chance of a lifetime to help my students discover their own inner talents in science and math. Plus it also meant cool field trips!
What first drew you to science and research?
I have always had an interest in science, starting with chasing the neighbors around with green frogs. I grew up on the edge of the NASA test site in Mississippi where they tested the space shuttle engines. My dad worked as a programmer analyst processing that data in Slidell, LA. My dad also worked on our own vehicles and was a pilot. So the intellectual and applied science was always around. My mom also supported me in my interests.
Participating in the science fair was mandatory when I was in high school. I enjoyed it, but there were not a lot of opportunities besides that one fair. We did not have easy access to universities or industries around us, the Internet did not exist then, and there wasn’t the financial support that organizations such as SSP provide. I was usually pretty successful in the science fair, but I knew there had to be more out there.
What has your experience as a SSP Fellow been like?
I had been doing some form of science research with students for a while. But being selected as a SSP Fellow really put credibility behind what I was trying to achieve. It was so awesome to meet others who had the same passion as I did. Since becoming a SSP Fellow, I seem to get more respect and attention from others in the educational and scientific community. I think because I am “endorsed” they see that I am not some random teacher bugging them. They know I have goals, plans, etc. to help students.
Can you describe the progress you have made at your school and in your community?
Over the past couple of years, serious students have migrated towards science research. I have found that the students approach me more, rather than me chasing after them. This is great! At one point the program at my school was in danger of being cancelled. The parents of the students participating instantly got involved on their own. They told me later that for the first time their children had found a comfortable place to express their talents. They did not feel isolated anymore. Some stated that their children were finally being challenged outside of the classroom. Plus they were having fun!
My students have had the opportunity to present at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia, South Carolina Junior Academy of Science Workshops and Annual Meetings, our regional Low Country Science Fairs, Google Science Fair, Young Naturalist Awards, and now the Intel ISEF.
I have also had students work with many organizations around our part of the state. Data they collected aided those organizations to make actual changes to hurricane preparedness and even impacted the health of our local recreational lake.
How has the support you offered impacted students and the broader community?
I have had students get into the colleges of their choice because of their research project experience. Several of my students have already received PhD’s in various science fields. Many others have realized that they can have a huge impact in their families and their own community. They feel empowered. That empowerment and confidence will never leave them.
What advice do you have for individuals attempting to increase interest in science in their communities?
Hang in there! Find someone who has your passion. Don’t ever think you are isolated. You are not! Don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you don’t ask, you won’t discover how much support is out there. If you can’t find someone else – contact me! Write grants…it’s really not that hard. All they can do is say no; then you just polish it all up and go again.
Why do you think it’s important for students to participate in scientific research?
The students learn so much more than just how to run an experiment. They gain confidence in their abilities to read articles at first that may be intimidating, write and communicate their thoughts and passions to various types of audiences, learn word processing, Excel, or other ways to present and convey their findings, learn how to take constructive criticism and respect others’ views, plus find other students that are like minded. It is amazing to just sit and watch so many different types of students get along – diversity at its best.
What are your future plans?
I plan to keep on teaching science and science research. I one day hope to move into a district or state science coordinator role. I would also like to work in the virtual teaching world.
It is extremely exciting to have a student qualify as a finalist at the Intel ISEF. It is an outstanding opportunity for the student – of course! But it also really validates me as a teacher. It energizes the spirit. It is so easy to get bogged down in your daily teaching with students who just want to do the bare minimum no matter what you do in your classroom. Intel ISEF is like a reset button! It is always well planned with so many opportunities for the students to meet and learn from others. They also find new strength and abilities in themselves. I have enjoyed the larger selection of really valid professional development! It is also great to be in an environment where I can tell people what I teach and they don’t freak out.