While Taylor Brown thought she was better at science and math than English and writing, it turns out she could pursue both. She moved on to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) 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’ve been talking about me writing a book since I was 8, but I procrastinated, as you can see, ”the 21-year-old said. “I think my increased involvement in STEM awareness is what ultimately motivated me to sit down and write it. The passion was not there until then.
The 27-page alphabet book covers 26 STEM-related topics, with each letter of the alphabet representing something different. There are pictures and facts to accompany each of them to give children 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 they were passionate about. It was important to her that young children understood that STEM is not only exciting, but also possible for them.
Brown, a senior at the University of San Diego, majoring in industrial and systems engineering, is vice president of the school chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, and volunteers with the Links to STEM program, which discusses the under-representation of people of color in the pursuit of 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.
Question: What sparked your 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 things like that. It wasn’t until high school that I found out that I wasn’t very good at it anymore and that I was better at math and science classes. I liked that there was so much I could be a part of with STEM. Much of the world around us is the product of someone who was good at math or science. I thought it was so cool and wanted to know more about it and how I could fit into this picture. Also, some of my favorite teachers have been math and science teachers, which probably played a role in my best interest.
Question: Why was this something you wanted to pursue academically and professionally?
A: I got into engineering after some trial and error during my freshman year of college. I came by thinking I wanted to either major in computer science or major in architecture. After taking a course in each department, I realized that I wasn’t crazy about one or the other. So I decided to take an introductory engineering course and immediately knew it would be for me. Industrial and systems engineering is my specialty and it involves process improvement, sustainability, simulation, etc. 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 job for me.
I think STEM is rewarding. I knew my lessons would be difficult, but interesting at the same time. I also knew that there would be job security with an engineering degree because the world will always be in trouble. Overall, it’s something I’m good at, I love to be at it and it challenges me every day.
Question: Is the demographic target of your book children between the ages of 3 and 6? Why did you want to focus on this age group in a book on science, technology, engineering, and math?
A: I wanted to reach out to a young population so that they could start learning about STEM as early as possible. I wasn’t introduced to the idea of being an engineer until I was in high school, and I think it’s a common occurrence for a lot of minority children; I wanted to change that. I think that by introducing these topics early, we can inspire more kids to develop an interest in their math and science lessons and increase their representation in STEM careers later.
What I like about East Village …
I love 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.
Question: What was your process for making the material accessible to children this young?
A: I must have put myself in a child’s head 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 had to simplify it a bit. For example, the letter “I” stands for “ice cream”. The angle I took is that ice cream is kind of an experiment that you can do, it’s like chemistry. Obviously I wasn’t going to include swear words like “chemistry” or something like that for this age group. However, they are probably familiar with ice cream and might be interested in how to make it from scratch.
Question: You are also vice president of the USD chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Why is it important for you to see more black people and other under-represented 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 they are young, black children can see that people who are like them can become those cool and important people who inspire 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’m doing my part to make that change happen through my involvement with NSBE and with my book.
Question: In what ways do you remember learning science and math over the years that have made them exciting and seem accessible to you?
A: I think what makes STEM exciting and accessible for me is the encouragement I get from my teachers and peers. When other people recognize my hard work and passion for what I do, it really means a lot, especially when it comes to people that I admire or admire. The kind words I have received from my peers and teachers are what keep me going and loving STEM. Plus, I learn something new every day about the way the world works around me. What could be more exciting than that?
Question: What are your plans after graduation? What do you see yourself doing, professionally?
A: After graduation I have a job that involves data analysis so I am excited to build my career in this field. Professionally, I’m not sure what I want to do. I take this time in my life to try different things to see where I am best at.
Question: What did you learn about yourself from this process of writing the book?
A: It taught me to step out of my comfort zone more often. Never in a million years would I have thought 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 because I have received a lot of kind words in the past few months since the word came out. It taught me not to doubt myself and to focus on what you want to do. You never know what might come your way.
Question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: Never worry about what other people think of you. Do what makes you happy and focus only on that. I think we overestimate the number of criticisms we are going to receive on a daily basis from strangers. It helps me to stop overthinking and doing it.
Question: What’s the one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: People are always surprised when they find out that I love to play chess! I’m still a beginner, but still enjoy it.
Question: Please describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.
A: My ideal weekend would be meeting a friend for downtown brunch, 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 take out and go to bed. Repeat it again the next day. I really appreciate my solitude because my weeks are quite hectic.