October 18-22, 2021
Click any plus sign below to learn more about these alumni and their STEM journeys.
My name is Sean Ernst, and for the past 7 years I have been living my dream career, chasing tornadoes and combining meteorology with social science to improve the ways we communicate the risk of severe weather! I’ve wanted to study the weather since I was young – I was always fascinated by the summer thunderstorms and winter blizzards we experience in New England, and I wanted to know more. My interest in tornadoes spun out of a VCR recording of a documentary describing the 1999 Moore Oklahoma F5 tornado, which I would watch religiously as a child. On my arrival at Parker, in 2008, I was able to dive even deeper into my passion, building tornado machines and learning how to interpret meteorological diagrams for my gateway projects. However, it was my senior project that truly set me on the path I am on today.
After watching Moore suffer a second EF5 tornado on live TV in May 2013, I decided that I wanted to do something with my meteorological knowledge to help those in the path of deadly storms protect themselves and their loved ones from harm. I reached out to Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, then the Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma, to learn more about efforts to improve tornado warnings and to ask him if he knew of any scientists who could mentor me on my senior project studying the tornado warning system. Dr. Droegemeier was impressed by my interest, and with his colleague Dr. Alicia Knoedler, mentored me on my senior project and helped me meet scientists studying both meteorology and social science that were looking to improve tornado warnings. The project was a wild success for me and offered a glimpse at what social science research meshed with meteorology could look like – and I was instantly hooked. I moved to Oklahoma the next year to earn my bachelor’s degree in meteorology, with minors in cognitive psychology and mathematics. From there, I met and was hired for my Master’s degree by Dr. Joseph Ripberger, a political scientist who is at the forefront of studying the impacts of weather on society. Since then, I completed my Master’s degree in 2020, and have stayed with Dr. Ripberger and the Center for Risk and Crisis Management as a research student pursuing my PhD in meteorology! It’s certainly been a whirlwind ride – 7 straight years of seeing tornadoes in the plains notwithstanding – and I can’t wait to see what’s next!
But before I wrap up, I want to share a few tips from my experiences for students interested in STEM fields for their careers. First, it is ok to not know what you want to do – many of my most brilliant meteorologist friends stumbled on the field as late as their sophomore year in college! Keep asking questions about the world and find out if learning new things with science is exciting for you – if so, STEM might be right for you! Second, do not discount your English and Humanities education. Writing, and in particular writing well, is a vastly important skill to every STEM field, as is history, ethics, and art! Finally, don’t ever be afraid to reach out to a scientist, even one who is famous or well known in their field, if you have questions about what they do or how they got where they are. We scientists love to reach out to stoke the imaginations of inquiring minds and introducing yourself to a scientist can open doors and opportunities you can’t even imagine. Good luck out there, keep learning about the world, and always keep an eye on our turbulent sky!
Hi! I’m Sarah Sushchyk and I currently work for Sanofi Genzyme in the Global Regulatory Affairs Chemistry and Manufacturing Controls Biologics group.
I graduated Parker in 2006 and as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for STEM and in particular the sciences. In high school my focus was on the plant sciences. My senior project explored the ecology of old growth forest on Wachusett mountain and the impact of the ski resort.
After Parker I attended the University of Rochester where I discovered my love of biochemistry. I became involved in a lab studying biochemical pharmaceutical targets. My love of the lab led me to apply to graduate school. I received my PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Maryland Baltimore in 2015. My thesis research brought me close to working on clinical trials and from there I was hooked on Regulatory Affairs. In a nutshell Regulatory Affairs is the group of people who are responsible for taking the science and research that goes into making a new drug and communicating it to the regulatory health authorities (like the FDA in the US). A good regulatory strategy can impact how quickly the drug is approved and can get to people who really need it. After graduate school I worked with the NIH on HIV vaccines and antibody clinical development (I even got to go to South Africa twice!).
After that I became more interested in how biological medicines were manufactured to ensure consistent purity, quality, potency, safety from clinic to market. This is how I came to be at my current role. I now manage two antibody products - one marketed and one starting Phase IIb clinical trials. I enjoy what I do because our group makes sure patients continue to receive their medications while ensuring the new generation of drug developments are brought to patients.
I’m Seth Penna, a 2015 Parker graduate, and currently an electrical engineer at Open Water Power, a company developing underwater aluminum batteries. I was interested in STEM from an early age, always taking things apart and exploring how the world around us works. I went to Northeastern University after Parker and knew that I wanted to study some sort of engineering, and I landed on electrical engineering after some intro exploratory engineering classes. Beyond learning in classes, I got to work in a research lab designing circuit boards and conducting field testing on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean. As an electrical engineer now, I continue to mostly work on printed circuit boards (PCBs) performing various tasks for our R&D focused company. I love the work I do in designing and building quick and small prototypes for the rapidly changing needs of our team. Every day is interesting!
My senior project at Parker was my first dive into the world of electricity and it really helped to guide me into my college education in electrical engineering. I focused on future improvements to the power grid that would improve reliability, efficiency, and sustainability and I was able to talk with industry insiders to learn more about their roles, and some of the work that went into maintaining a system as large as the power grid. Although I didn’t go into the industry of utility-scale electrical power – I work with significantly smaller-scale power electronics – my senior project really did open up the world of electronics to me.
Hi! I'm Jonathan, Parker School class of '00, Amherst College class of '05 or '06E, depending on whether you ask the IT or fundraising department. I'm currently an Area Tech Lead on Google Assistant for TV (that's like a high-level software engineer that provides technical guidance for a whole department...in my case, I help you talk to your TVs). I knew I was interested in something STEM from elementary school onwards, but I didn't know which STEM field until my senior year of college.
I graduated Parker sure I was going to be a physicist. I'd taken a dual-enrollment course at UMass Lowell my senior year, loved it, and decided that was going to be my major. Then I took a gap year at John Stadler's startup (he was a Parker founder and MST teacher), catching the tail end of the dot-com boom to do a teen-content dot-com. It flamed out, as many startups do, but I had a lot of fun programming in the meantime. Went to college, tried out a bunch of majors (aside from physics and computer science, I considered philosophy, sociology, and geology), ignored all the lessons about myself that the startup should've taught me, and declared as a physics major. I flamed out, as many college students with poor study habits do, and flunked two courses in my major, making it impossible to complete the physics major in the requisite 4 years. Switched to CS in my last semester out of desperation - I had already completed all of the upper-level electives, so in theory I could finish all the intro courses in one semester and complete the major.
After graduation, I went to work at a financial software startup, figuring that from there, I could either jump into hedge funds, software companies, or startups, depending on which aspect of the job I liked the most. Hated finance, liked software, loved startups. Left to found one with a college floormate. It flamed out, as many startups do. Rejected job offers from a number of other startups, then I applied to Google and got in. I worked on Search for ~5 years, mostly on the user interface of the search results page, a few homepage doodles, and some stints on infrastructure, research projects, GFiber, and Google+. Left to do more startups - I think I must've tried out about 20 ideas over the next 6 years. They flamed out, as many startups do.
I'm back at Google now, in a very different role. I work on putting the Assistant stack and its machine-learning models onto consumer electronics, like TVs. AndroidTV is a very different beast from the web programming I was doing before, but I enjoy learning new platforms and new programming languages, as well as figuring out the puzzle of how to fit a very complex piece of software onto smaller microchips that we're not used to thinking of as computers.
My name is Nellie Agosta and I graduated from Parker in 2012. I am currently an MD/PhD student in my first year of graduate research (third year of my program) at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. To celebrate See Yourself in STEM week I was asked to outline why I went into STEM and the path that got me to where I am today.
I grew up in a house that encouraged me to pursue science from the very beginning (my dad is a physics professor and my mom studied electrical engineering) so when I took the Animal Biology class at Parker, I was primed to find my spark. From there I went to marine biology camp (and ruled out field biology) and finally to the Spring Lecture Series for Juniors at the Whitehead Institute called “Taking stock of stem cells” where I learned about the awesome world of biomedical research and how it can be used to improve healthcare. At the same time, I was going on medical missions to the Dominican Republic and loved the work of helping patients in a one-on-one setting. I was drawn both to the idea of helping people directly and also to contributing to the exciting improvements in biomedical research that help more people over time. I went to Tufts University where I majored in Biology, planning to keep my options open. (I also did a minor in Dance because I enjoyed it and no one could stop me).
During college I had experiences in many biology-related fields but none of them were quite for me. Big pharma was too corporate, clinical research didn’t have enough biology, and academic research was not translational enough. I was still interested in medical school but I wanted to get more lab experience before I ruled out becoming a bench scientist, so I took the MCAT and then got a job at a biotech start-up in Cambridge. While I didn’t like that our research was primarily driven by potential for profit, I really did love bench research and discovered I wasn’t willing to give it up to go to medical school. I felt stuck, but I also thought back on a researcher I worked for who was also a medical doctor. She saw lung cancer patients every week, but also ran a lab that studied how different interventions could help her patients. I talked to other doctors who did research and learned that was actually a specific degree that combined my two passions, and that is how I ended up in an MD/PhD program.
The first two years of medical school were challenging but the highlights included getting to work with a patient longitudinally through the student clinic and making personal connections with doctors and fellow students. I was also able to satisfy many of my curiosities about human health and I have become a resource for friends and family with pathophysiology questions (i.e. what is happening on a biological level during a given disease) even if I’m not qualified to answer clinical questions yet (i.e. what disease do I have based on these symptoms). I started my PhD phase about two months ago and it has its own challenges - failed experiments, lots of troubleshooting, odd hours - but I love the day to day work of being in the lab. I get to design my own experiments and make decisions that drive my research. At the same time I still go to the student clinic and manage the care of my patient. Even though my degree is long (7-8 years!) I get to do my dream job as a student, and I’m glad I took the time to consider so many options before choosing a path.
That is my story, but there are many other paths someone with my interests could take. If you are a Parker student or alum interested in majoring in natural sciences, industry/biotech research, clinical research, biomedical research, or (of course) medical school - please contact me, I am happy to chat.
Hello, I am Blake Buckalew (class of 2002). My path to my current career at Boomi as a software engineer and global domain lead for master data hub (master data management) started well after college. I studied evolutionary psychology at Evergreen State (focusing on violence and conflict) class of 2006. I blame Parker for how I’ve ended up in my current position.
A long path of varied jobs ranging from farming and music production to fact finding work (arbitration) I found that I was drawn to science everywhere. Wherever I was I found ways to enjoy practicing and applying the method. I needed to find a way to Science up my life!
With no real background or work history, I decided I should look for a foot in the door and found one as a sample tech at an environmental lab. Parker provided the opportunity to form many skills but the one that seems to have always come to the forefront is continually developing critical thinking skills. This allows us to find ways to educate ourselves and grow and it was my key to success.
Learning from the ground floor, (or mailroom if you prefer), asking questions, developing relationships to learn with and from others quickly landed me in the QA department. I took every opportunity to find anything to learn. I became the calibration department, water filtration department, equipment repair and consultation lead for QA and had a wonderful time representing our quality systems in all sorts of audits. Parker really gets you ready to deal with audits! The job was great but I needed to grow and grow my income to support my family. So I looked elsewhere and with luck found Boomi (formally Dell Boomi).
I landed a job at Dell Boomi in 2019 as a systems engineer knowing nothing about iPaaS or being a system engineer and started yet again using those Parker skills.
Here I am now, a software engineer learning as I go, training people, working interdepartmentally representing our global support team, enabling our customers, and resolving complex issues. Not every path to STEM is direct and in my case it certainly was not. Who knows what is next for me but it’s clear that Parker and the journey so far has helped me grow in ways I’d not have ever expected.
I’d like to thank my Parker teachers, a few of you are still there. Not just the MST teachers but all domains at Parker were fundamental to my development and my current success. Thank you!