*STEM Spotlight*

Aria Eppinger next to her science fair presentation. Aria Eppinger, 17, is a senior at Winchester Thurston. In May 2019, she traveled to the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix, AZ. While there, Aria presented her research project, entitled "Serum Marker of Glyphosate Exposure Associated with Changes Oral and Gut Microbiome Composition". Her project placed 4th in the Microbiology category! When she's not "sciencing", you can find her swimming. She has been swimming competitively since three years old. She also enjoys cooking and eating. She loves to experiment with her own dessert recipes.

Carnegie STEM Girls Interview with Aria

When did you realize that you were interested in STEM? In elementary school, math was always my favorite subject. In kindergarten, I loved the math we did with patterns and shapes -- it was so fascinating. I don't think I realized I was interested in STEM until 6th grade when I had the opportunity to participate in a summer program with international students that my school was hosting. We did all kinds of fun activities like making 3D printed rockets and experimenting with chemicals to identify unknown substances. From there, I got involved in my school's independent research program (science fair), and I've been hooked ever since.

What was your experience like competing in the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair (PRSEF) and ISEF? It was a lot of fun. At both fairs, you get to meet a lot of interesting people from all over who share your passion for STEM. At ISEF, the best place to meet people is waiting in lines. Since there are so many people at ISEF, there are usually lines. Everyone in line has an interesting story about where they are from or what they did for their project. It was also fun to talk to the judges about my project. I put so much effort into my research and it was amazing to be able to share it with people who were really interested.Aria attending the International Science and Engineering Fair.

What was the best part about competing with other international students? It gave me a sense that there is a greater good in the world. Despite the political tensions we hear about in the news, all over the world there are kind and caring people who all share my love of STEM. I know that 25 years from now, we will all be making the world a better place.

Was there a particular person or event that influenced you? Who are your role models? One of my role models is Mr. Marx, one my high school science teachers. He runs the independent research program (science fair) at my school (and he also teach classes). He usually worked with high school students, but he took a chance on me and another 7th grader to expand the program to middle school. I'm very thankful for all the support and encouragement he provided to me over the years. He inspires me because he was going to be a doctor but changed his mind and he decided to make his mark on the world through teaching. His eagerness to solve any problems we came across in the project through creative solutions made me want to be just as innovative as he is.

Aria and her chocolate cake, made from scratch. What do you like to do in your free time? I enjoy swimming and cooking. I've been working on perfecting my chocolate cake recipe for a couple of years now. It’s gluten-free and dairy-free, because I can’t eat those things. I'm satisfied with the cake part itself, but I'm still working on the icing recipe. I also enjoy playing with my dogs (who always seem to have the best advice). Additionally, I volunteer at my school to teach a Middle School Math program and at my church to teach Sunday school. I have always enjoyed DIYing and crafting. My projects have ranged from traditional quilts and baby blankets to crocheted chemistry molecules.

What do you aspire to be in the future? I definitely want to pursue a career in STEM. I've had the opportunity to work in a University Lab and through that experience I realized my love of analyzing data, especially using computer science. I'm hoping to study computational biology in college, but that may change. I'm excited to learn about lots of different topics in STEM and see what interests me.

What advice would you give to other females that are interested in STEM? Have fun. Science is fun and if you are interested in pursuing it, there will always be fun opportunities to explore new concepts. If you follow your fun-radar, you can't go wrong. Also, be confident. It's sometimes easy to feel like you're not qualified enough for certain programs or to do something you want to do, but if you believe in yourself and are willing to put the work in, you can do anything, regardless of what other people think or say.

I run the STEMinist Club at my high school. Towards the end of Freshman year, I did some research on the underrepresentation of women in STEM. I realized that, by creating a safe space for girls interested in STEM, we could also raise awareness of STEM underrepresentation as well as run outreach events to encourage all middle-schoolers, girls and boys, to continue pursuing STEM. So, a friend of mine and I founded this club. We hold events regularly throughout the school year, like STEMinist-themed movie showings, screen printing teeshirts, discussions about underrepresentation and its impacts, and guest lecturers. We invite the whole school to the guest presentations.

Are you a girl doing something cool in STEM? We want to know about it! You could get featured in our Spotlight Center! Email SeidelsonT@CarnegieScienceCenter.org to tell us about the amazing things you are doing to change the world!

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