San Diego student writes children’s book to encourage underrepresented kids in STEM
While Taylor Brown thought she was better at science and math than she was at English and writing, it turns out she could pursue both. She switched to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects in high school, but during a recent summer research program in Sweden, she found time to write and publish her first children’s book, “What do you know about… STEM? »
“The idea for the book actually came from my mother. We talked about me writing a book since I was 8, but I dithered, as you can see,” the 21-year-old says. “I think my increased involvement in STEM awareness is what ultimately motivated me to sit down and write it. The passion wasn’t there until then.
The 27-page alphabet covers 26 STEM-related topics, with each letter of the alphabet representing something different. There are pictures and facts to accompany each one to give kids inspiration for further exploration on their own. She wanted to introduce STEM to young children in a fun and interactive way, and for them to find something in the field that inspires passion. It was important to her that young children understand that STEM is not only exciting but also possible for them.
Brown, an elderly person in University of San Diego, majoring in industrial and systems engineering, is vice president of the school’s chapter of National Society of Black Engineers, and volunteers with the Links to STEM program, which addresses the underrepresentation of people of color in pursuing degrees and professions in STEM-related fields. She lives in the East Village of downtown San Diego, while her parents and younger sister are back in Las Vegas and plan to graduate next year. She took the time to talk about her book, her love of science and math, and why greater representation in her chosen field is so important.
Q: What first sparked your own interest in STEM?
A: I probably started thinking about STEM in high school. It’s funny because for most of my school life I thought I was better at English and stuff like that. It wasn’t until high school that I found out I wasn’t too good at it anymore and excelled more in math and science. I loved that there were so many things I could participate in with STEM. Much of the world around us is the product of someone who was good at math or science. I thought that was so cool and wanted to know more about it and how I could fit into that image. Also, some of my favorite teachers have been math and science teachers, which probably played a role in my interest.
Q: Why was it something you wanted to pursue academically and professionally?
A: I came to engineering after a bit of trial and error during my freshman year of college. I came here thinking that I wanted to be either a computer science major or an architecture major. After taking a course in each department, I realized that I wasn’t crazy about any of them. So I decided to take an introductory engineering course and knew right away that this would be for me. Industrial and systems engineering is my specific specialty, and it involves process improvement, sustainability, simulation, and more. It basically encompasses what I imagine an engineer does, which is solving problems and making everyone else’s life smarter, not harder. I’m really glad I found it, and it’s definitely the craft for me.
I think STEM is rewarding. I knew my classes would be challenging, but interesting at the same time. I also knew there would be job security with an engineering degree because the world will always have problems. Overall it’s something I’m good at, I like to be good at and it challenges me every day.
Q: The target demographic of your book is children between 3 and 6 years old? Why did you want to focus on this age group in a science, technology, engineering and math book?
A: I wanted to reach a younger demographic so they could start learning about STEM as soon as possible. I wasn’t introduced to the idea of being an engineer until I was in high school, and I think that’s a common occurrence for a lot of minority kids; I wanted to change that. I believe that by introducing these topics early, we can inspire more children to develop an interest in their math and science classes and increase their representation in STEM careers later.
What I love about East Village…
I love the fact that I have so many options of bars, restaurants and cafes just around the corner from my home. No need to drive or anything – everything is so close and accessible.
Q: What was your process for making the material accessible to children this young?
A: I had to put myself in the mindset of a child to write this book, that’s for sure. I had to think about what they would find interesting and what they would be able to handle. Science can have complicated jargon, so I needed to simplify it a bit. For example, the letter “I” means “ice cream”. The angle I took is that ice cream is a kind of experiment you can do, it’s like chemistry. Obviously, I wasn’t going to include swear words like “chemistry,” or anything like that for that age group. However, they probably know about ice cream and maybe they will be interested in learning how to make it from scratch.
Q: You are also vice-president of the USD chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Why is it important to you to see more black people and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields?
A: Representation is everything, and that’s why it’s so important that more black people enter the engineering field every year. If young black kids can see that people who look like them can become these cool, important people, that inspires them to follow in their footsteps. Right now I’m literally the only black person in some of my engineering classes. This needs to change, and I am doing my part to make that change happen through my involvement with NSBE and with my book.
Q: What are some ways you remember being taught about science and math over the years that made it exciting and accessible to you?
A: I think what makes STEM exciting and accessible to me is the encouragement I get from my teachers and peers. When other people recognize my hard work and my passion for what I do, it really means a lot, especially when it comes from people I look up to or look up to. The kind words I received from my peers and teachers are what keeps me going and loving STEM. Plus, I learn something new every day about how the world works around me. What’s more exciting than that?
Q: What are your plans after graduation? What do you see yourself doing, professionally?
A: I have a job planned after graduation that involves data analysis, so I’m excited to build my career in this field. Professionally, I’m not totally sure what I want to do. I take advantage of this period of my life to try different things to see where I excel the most.
Q: What did this process of writing the book teach you about yourself?
A: It taught me to get out of my comfort zone more often. Never in a million years did I think I would get so much attention for a book I wrote. I was so nervous telling others about my book because I was afraid they wouldn’t like it, or think it looked stupid or something. This fear turned out to be completely irrational as I have received many kind words over the past few months since the word first came out. It taught me not to doubt myself and to do what you want to do. You never know what might happen to you.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: To never worry about what other people think of you. Do what makes you happy and focus only on that. I think we are overestimating the amount of criticism we are going to receive daily from strangers. It helps me stop overthinking and just do myself.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: People are always surprised when they find out that I like to play chess! I’m still a beginner, but I still like it.
Q: Please describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.
A: My ideal weekend would be meeting a friend for brunch downtown, strolling through Seaport Village with a latte in hand. After saying goodbye, I would watch movies or read a book in my apartment until dinner time. Then it’s time to order some Thai food to go and go to bed. Repeat it again the next day. I definitely enjoy my solitude as my weeks are quite hectic.