Role models try to stimulate interest in science

Tajah Kee, 13, from Uniondale, left, Cellinda Gibbs, Tajah Kee, 13, from Uniondale, left, Cellinda Gibbs, 15 and Briditte Gibbs, 12, both of Dix Hills, listen as Dr. Dilys Whyte talks about being a pediatric nephrologist at a career forum in Wyandanch. (March 23, 2013) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Conversations at the career forum contained the usual buzz words: internships, resumes, the PSAT.

There were also odd props: a model replica of a kidney; an iPad containing diagrams of the human body; a Monopoly board with modern sites minus the familiar places, like Park Place and Boardwalk.

Organizers described it as the latest approach to igniting interest in the math and sciences, which educators and professionals say is vital, especially for minorities and low-income communities.

Dylis Whyte, a pediatric nephrologist who works at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, said, "It is a way out . . . It's probably one of the escape routes that's feasible."

Children of color "see a lot of stars on TV. We publicize it, we give them tons of money," Whyte said.

"But not everybody in the courtyard playing basketball can be a millionaire. Science, technology, and math can be glamorous in their own way," she said.

Speaking Saturday at a forum sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at an ambulance corps building in Wyandanch, Whyte said generating student interest in the sciences is always difficult. "One of the biggest problems, when they think of a career in medicine, they think it takes too long," she said.

She urges patience for those seeking science careers. "Time will go quickly; and you can still have the dream of being a pediatrician."

Whyte was joined by several other professionals of color -- engineers, therapists, nurses.

Tiffany Dupree-Atwell, a civil engineer, brought the Monopoly board, dotted with sites her company designed or built, including a Metro station in Virginia. "I don't think a lot of young people know or have ever heard of engineering," she said.

A national push to boost science, technology, engineering and math education -- STEM -- has begun transforming Long Island schools, educators have said. Students are taking science and math Regents exams earlier, to better their prospects and prepare for harder classes.

It may be working.

"It was awesome," said Brigitte Gibbs, 12, a student at Candlewood Middle School in Dix Hills and one of about a dozen youths in attendance. Math and science, she said, are "scary, but it also just makes me want to try harder."

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