Lindblom Math & Science Academy Senior JeNaye Beavers’ interest in medicine was initially sparked by curiosity. After constantly suffering from migraines early on in high school, she wanted to know not only why, but how she could fix it. JeNaye found an opportunity to put her ideas into action by extending her experience with scientific research beyond the classroom through the Research & Development STEM Learning Exchange STEM Challenge.
Supported in part by Baxter through its Science@Work initiative, the Illinois Science & Technology Institute’s R&D STEM Learning Exchange is a coalition of more than 50 cross-sector partner organizations dedicated to educating, recruiting and retaining the next-generation of STEM talent in Illinois.
The program promotes inquiry-based learning experiences that build critical thinking skills and address problems faced by Illinois industry, institutions and communities, by matching students with industry professionals to act as mentors through their projects. This year, Baxter presented students with the challenge to research renal dialysis and parenteral nutrition, focusing on home treatment. The students were tasked with recommending design innovations that can improve usability, accessibility and patient outcomes.
“Most students might not associate science and fun, but this program lets us personalize our projects, collect data and draw our own conclusions,” said JeNaye, who will be attending Cornell University in the fall to pursue studies in psychology and neurology. “It’s encouraging that a company like Baxter recognizes that there might not be just one answer or one way to get there and welcomes our questions and ideas.”
“Most students might not associate science and fun, but this program lets us personalize our projects, collect data and draw our own conclusions. It’s encouraging that a company like Baxter recognizes that there might not be just one answer or one way to get there and welcomes our questions and ideas.”- JeNaye Beavers, Lindblom Math & Science Academy Senior
Since its inception by the Illinois Science & Technology Institute in 2012, the R&D STEM Learning Exchange has impacted more than 2,000 students and 80 teachers.
“When you’re in a regular classroom, it seems like the same routine of read, exam, assess over and over again,” Asia Green, also a senior at Lindblom Math & Science Academy who will be pursuing a chemistry major at the University of Michigan with a full tuition scholarship, said. “The Exchange provides a different experience by allowing you to discover things on your own using strategic thinking and creativity with the support of real-world mentors.”
The Baxter mentors support students working on the challenge throughout their research, providing guidance, feedback and hands-on demonstrations that might assist them in their problem solving. Olivier Visa, vice president of global compounding and a Baxter mentor for the R&D STEM Learning Exchange, notes most of the mentoring is about the “how” rather than “what,” facilitating extensive conversations versus being more technical in nature.
The mentoring journey starts early in the academic year and leads all the way to the students’ final presentations to industry professionals at the end of the school year. Participating students are also given a chance to spend the day at Baxter learning about Baxter products and therapies.
“’You need to have that dream and you need to dream big’ is what I tell my students,” Olivier said. “These students have the opportunity to be extremely successful and this program opens their vision to show them what they are capable of and how far they can go.”