Finding a niche at North can be a daunting task, considering the wide array of clubs, sports, and other activities that the school offers. However, finding such a place is rewarding, explained junior Jessica Chen, because “when you join any club or team, you don’t just join the club. You get to know a whole new community of people.”
As the vice president of Science Team, Chen manages the team’s finances and takes part in numerous competitions, including Envirothon, the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, and Science Olympiad. She has further pursued her interest in science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) by taking AP science courses at North and by participating in various computer science programs.
Chen began participating in Science Team during her freshman year, when she took part in Envirothon, a hands-on environmental science competition.
“There are a ton of competitions on Science Team,” she said, “and I was so confused as a freshman to the point of not really doing anything else aside from Envirothon.”
During her sophomore year, she joined more competitions, including the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, an oceanography competition, and Science Olympiad, a competition with events focused on various scientific topics.
Chen noted that “eventually, you settle in,” make friends, and “get to know everyone else better. You get absorbed into the community.” She credits these changes to “getting to know some people on the team.”
“Now that I have a good role on Science Team,” as the vice president and a returning member, “it’s an experience on its own. You learn a lot of things you wouldn’t learn in school,” added Chen, presenting oceanography as an example. In Ocean Bowl, she said, “you learn a lot about the oceans,” which is “actually really cool.”
She explained that Science Team competitions, which can be specialized, like Ocean Bowl, or wide-ranging, like Science Olympiad, cover “so many different topics that you can choose from. You get a lot of outside knowledge.” Chen added, “I’ve tried a lot of different clubs and ended up not really liking them. Science Team was just the natural club to choose because of my interest in science.”
Chen first became interested in STEM in middle school. Though she had always enjoyed math, she realized that she preferred science when she entered high school.
The female-to-male ratio, she noted, is slightly skewed in some STEM classes, especially engineering classes, where there are “always more males than females.” However, Chen said, “I haven’t felt particularly uncomfortable about that” because participation of girls in STEM activities is “encouraged or respected in some ways” in the North community.
In order to pursue her interest in STEM, Chen decided to take AP Chemistry, rather than honors chemistry, during her sophomore year. Over the summer after her freshman year, she attended the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, where she learned chemistry, and decided that she “might as well try” to enroll in AP Chemistry.
Being able to take AP Chemistry as a sophomore occasionally helps with Science Team, said Chen. “It was nice to get ahead from the start, but I know in the wider sense, it almost seems unfair when I think about it,” seeing as most sophomores do not have the opportunity to take AP Chemistry.
However, she explained that she enrolled in the class “for reasons aside from getting to take an AP course,” adding, “I felt like it also related to a lot of other things I was interested in, and I actually really liked chem.”
This year, Chen is taking AP Biology. Because of her heavy course load, along with the time spent at Science Team and sports practices, she has learned to balance her time well. “Friday nights are just nights when I can have fun,” she said, while Saturdays and Sundays are designated times to catch up on work.
Chen applies this philosophy to Science Team, where work ethic, rather than grade level, is what shapes each member’s experiences on the team, she said. “Liking Science Team and doing well at it come from how much you’re willing to work,” she explained. “If you’re doing it just to put it on your resumé, you won’t do as well.”
Along with encouraging members to work diligently, making a greater effort to welcome new students is one of Chen’s priorities this year, especially because numerous team members graduated from North last year. “I hope that this year we can come up with a more definite structure that’s more welcoming for new members. I feel like that wasn’t a priority in the past,” she explained.
Because there are fewer members who have been on the team before, the sense of community is less solid, which poses a challenge because “when organizing any team, it’s sometimes hard to get people to care,” said Chen. “I hope that this year, we can get people invested in the team because that’s great for any club.”
Science Team is also self-funded and student-organized, so there is more freedom to organize it as one sees fit, added Chen. Though “it can get messy” at times, students who wish to become more involved or make changes can enter leadership roles. “You don’t have adults who are going to help you organize,” she explained. “You have all the freedom you want.”
As Science Team’s vice president, Chen is responsible for organizing the team’s fundraising, which “can be pretty annoying at times,” seeing as the school does not fund academic clubs but funds certain sports teams. She regards fundraising simply as “something you have to get done,” whether by selling candy boxes or by some other means.
In addition to being involved in Science Team, Chen has participated in various computer science programs. During her freshman year, she took a computer science course at North, then began participating in North’s Girls Coding Club, founded by senior Winnie Chan, who had gone to the Girls Who Code summer immersion program. Chan encouraged Chen to also enroll in the Girls Who Code program, which she did before her junior year. There, she learned how to code with Python, C++, and other web programming languages.
In the future, Chen said that she may consider entering a field in STEM and, after going to Girls Who Code, “would be interested in something that has to do with computer science.” She also “would like to go into something that has to do with technology and would maybe consider going into research.”
However, her sense of what she might do in the future is “not really well-formed.” Chen explained, “I don’t know my future, and I don’t imagine anyone else really does.”