By STEVEN NALLEY
The right words changed Marissa Mayer’s life, and she, in turn, helped change the world.
Lynne Schwabe, director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation, said Mayer was a delegate to the National Youth Science Camp in 1993. Today, Mayer is vice president for local, maps and location services with Google, and Schwabe said Mayer has attributed her ability to think outside the box to a key experience at NYSC.
“She said the camp changed her life, because she was listening to one of our lectures, and one of the camp staff leaned over and told her, ‘It’s not what he says; it’s how he thinks,’” Schwabe said. “That just opened her brain to possibilities she’d never thought of before.”
This Wednesday, Starkville’s Charlotte Wang began her month at NYSC and her journey to join Mayer on the camp’s list of distinguished alumni.
Taking place at West Virginia’s Camp Pocahontas, the NYSC offers delegates hands-on learning experiences, lectures from premier scientists, and a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. featuring a banquet in their honor hosted by U.S. Senate members. Each state’s government selects two delegates to attend the camp the summer after their high school graduation.
Schwabe said the camp’s distinguished speakers this year include Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said the roster of speakers also includes Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, which hosts several annual robotics competitions, including the FIRST Lego League international competition where Armstrong Middle School competed this May.
Wang, a recent graduate of the Mississippi School for Math and Science, said she is honored and excited to be accepted to NYSC.
“I’m looking forward to the camping and hiking aspects of the camp the most, since I’ve never done either before, as well as meeting the other delegates,” Wang said.
Wang said MSMS has played a significant role in not only leading her to NYSC but also making her a better student, leader, and person through such lab-based courses as biochemistry, organic chemistry and calculus-based mechanics, along with research at Mississippi State University on fiber-optic glucose sensors she presented at the International Science and Engineering Fair. Such research feeds a passion for science she said she has possessed since she was very young.
“I grew up asking questions about the world around me, so it was very natural for me to be interested in science,” Wang said. “I’ve explored my interests through science fair projects, reading science books and articles, and doing scientific research in high school. Even now, I subscribe to scientific magazines such as Discover and National Geographic. I’ve always thought of science as magic that we can understand, and I like it for its great potential to help society as well as answer my many questions.”
Rick Smith, admissions office director at MSMS, said NYSC has selected MSMS students as delegates for at least the last five years, and another MSMS student, Anna Liang from Boyle, was selected as the other Mississippi delegate. He said Wang is notable not only for her dedication to academics but also her commitment to getting word out about her school.
“It’s a positive reflection on the school, Starkville and the state when we have students who can attend these programs and represent us well,” Smith said. “(Wang) was also an emissary at MSMS, kind of like our student recruiter.”
Wang said she plans to attend Yale University in the fall and major in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. These interdisciplinary majors pose several research opportunities, she said, but she is uncertain about her future career.
“Right now I’m considering medicine, law, business, and public health, but I hope that my work will make an impact on society,” Wang said. “I believe that NYSC will help me to achieve these goals as well as provide a wonderful and rare opportunity to enjoy a blend of science and nature with amazing peers.”
Like Wang’s chosen major, NYSC is also interdisciplinary, Schwabe said, introducing students to topics traditionally not encountered in high school and opening their eyes to a wide range of possibilities in science. She said her favorite part is seeing the delegates build friendships which often endure long after NYSC, continuing into their professional careers.
“I love the way everybody becomes best friends within about five minutes of arriving,” Schwabe said. “One of the things I hear over and over again (is), ‘This is the first time I have felt it’s OK to be the way I am,’ because these kids are frighteningly smart and often marginalized in their high schools. (At NYSC, delegates are) creating a science family they will keep in touch with for the rest of their life.”