Intern Spotlight: Encouraging Conversations About Race in STEM

Internships with Hudson River Park’s River Project provide hands-on research experience as well as mentorship and career stepping stones for students historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

This summer, we’ve been excited to welcome two college-aged mentors from CUNY City College and eight high school students to take part in a virtual internship program focused on marine science research and STEM leadership. During this program, our interns are learning to conduct a local research project focused on microplastics.

high school interns virtual summer stem internship wave on zoom
Meet our high school interns, Aroni, Ana, Jennifer, Marlene, Amy S., Amy Z., Denisse and Alexia.

As they build research experience, these students also practice STEM leadership and job readiness skills by participating in a number of seminars facilitated by experts. Part of this learning experience for students includes discussing the inextricable connection between race and environmental & climate justice.

For a conversation with our team on how to talk about race, we welcomed teacher, youth advocate and bestselling author, Jasper Armstrong. During this seminar, Mr. Armstrong shared valuable tools necessary to have courageous conversations about race with our colleagues and community.

Our team shared their reflections from this discussion and expressed how they hope to use the power of their voices to continue the conversation on racial justice. These ongoing conversations are key to understanding racial, climate and environmental justice and an important part of how we can bring positive change to the scientific community and beyond. Learn what each student is taking away from this seminar:

Aroni: “I have a lot of pent up emotions and beliefs about how racial issues are handled around me, but it’s for me to take action but be mindful of the struggles of other people. I learned that before I jump into ways to solve the issue or even refute one’s argument, I should self-reflect and look at the beliefs at my core. I’m hopeful that with these kinds of conversations, the racial biases present within even my generation could be rechecked. My main takeaway is to always take a step back and find the balance of thinking, believing, acting and feeling so I can be a respectful listener and an active participant in these conversations.”
Alexia: “I learned how to control my emotions more when I disagree with someone during a conversation…I am hopeful that I can pass on this information to anyone who is willing to listen because it is important to be able to communicate about these issues in a safe way. I also just wanted to say that this was one of my favorite talks this far in our program because I don’t get to talk about [racial issues] often.”
Amy S.: “Something that I learned about myself was that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable at times and to be aware of it in the moment…One thing that I am hopeful for is having these types of conversations with people who might not be well educated on the topic, spreading my knowledge with them and respecting one another’s opinions all while being in a safe environment.”
Jennifer: “I will walk away with more confidence when speaking about this topic to others. I am hopeful that in the future things will get better for people of color, and change takes time, but with everything happening I know one day we will get the change we deserve for the better.”
Denisse: “I learned how to express my ideas in a way that can be understanding and clear for everyone and became more aware of these problems we face in society. With this knowledge, I will be able to inform others about these problems in the future or when the time comes.”
Ana: “Something I learned was how to approach [BIPOC] in a respectful and more compassionate manner…I now want to look more into this topic to find out more information and be more educated than if I only had information from what others tell me…I now know to take a step back and think more on what I can contribute to issues like this.”
Marlene: “I learned that I [have] numerous ideas and opinions that I refuse to speak about because I am afraid that it can affect the way people look at me. I hope that after this workshop I can let go of the fear of being criticized and express my emotions and opinions.”
Amy Z.: “Something new I learned was how prejudice or ill-informed information can have a lasting impact on society, and that in today’s climate we should take a step back and think about what we’re saying or what we’re thinking about someone. We should focus on empathy and getting to understand that not everyone will have a shared experience and that everyone’s viewpoint is valid….I am hopeful for the future, and how my generation will stand up for what we believe in. I will take from this the ability to feel more empathetic towards other people and realize that together we can create substantial change by erasing the standards that men from centuries past set for us.”