It’s rare that anyone gets to meet a Nobel Prize Laureate. This summer, a Bethel eleventh-grader will meet several, along with leading scientists, inventors, and academics. For three days in July, Bethel Regional High School student Lauren Charles will attend the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders in Boston, Massachusetts.
In the welcome video on the Congress’ website, you see a concert hall filled with high school students from around the country. They’re smiling, dancing, and cheering. All the while, big names in science and technology walk out on a stage, waving. There are genetic researchers, National Medal of Science recipients, the inventor of the Ethernet, and even Buzz Aldrin, one of the first humans to walk on the moon. The video is supposed to get students like Charles excited about geeking out on science and technology for three days alongside their peers from around the country. And it’s working.
“I feel like we’re going to have a lot of things to talk about, and telling each other what we like and what we’re interested in, and I don’t have many people here who’re interested in doing that,” Charles said.
Charles loves science. Her favorite is biology, particularly genetics, but she also really digs chemistry. At the Congress she’ll get to share that love with people who are passionate about the same things.
The Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders is an academic honors program. Students need a 3.5 grade point average or higher to be selected, and Charles is well ahead of that.
“Last year I ended school with a 4.0, and this year it’s so close. It’s a 3.8, and I just need one more percent to get it back to a 4.0.”
In Boston, Charles will hear leaders in the fields of science and technology talk about their research. She’ll get advice from the deans of top tech universities, and she’ll learn about the latest advances in science and technology. In her interest areas of genetics and chemistry, knowledge is advancing rapidly.
The goal of the Congress is to inspire students to pursue their dreams in these fields and provide resources to get them there, like scholarships, networking, and internships. Charles says she's received plenty of encouragement from her peers at Bethel Regional High School.
“Most of my friends, they’re not really interested in science,” Charles said, “but they said it’s really cool I’ll get the opportunity to go to Boston to meet all these big professors and Nobel Prize winners.”
BRHS math teacher David Terry suggested Charles for the Congress, and Dr. John Mather, Nobel Prize winner in Physics and Science and Director of the program that runs the Congress, nominated her. Charles says the news came in a letter.
“We picked up my dad, and he had the mail from the post office. So I was in the truck when I got it, and I opened it, and I was just really surprised, because things like this don’t come around often in rural Alaska.”
But attending isn’t free, or even cheap. Charles is aiming to raise just under $3,000 for tuition, airfare, and food.
She’s set up a gofundme page. Family members have given donations. She has used a portion of her permanent fund dividend. And she and her mom have been holding bake sales with two top sellers: cranberry bread and salmonberry pie.
Charles has about $2,000 left to raise, and she believes it’ll all pay off.
“It’s kind of nerve-racking, but exciting. Like your dreams are going to come true if you get this kind of opportunity.”