As the Western Regional Coordinator for Let’s Talk Science, Jessica Popp ’11 has combined her passions for science, technology, engineering, math and youth mentorship into a career inspiring youth to see the prevalence and need for STEM in their everyday lives. Her interest in both the subject matter and working with students is the result of guidance she received from her HWS professors and peers.
“My time at Hobart and William Smith significantly influenced how I approach every day and every interaction,” says Popp, who graduated summa cum laude in biology. “HWS provided me with invaluable opportunities, and a network of dedicated scientists with the determination to help inspire others.”
Let’s Talk Science is a national, charitable organization based in Canada that focuses on STEM education and outreach to support youth development. In her position, Popp develops and maintains partnerships with communities, organizations and stakeholders throughout Western Canada; mentors site outreach coordinators; and is creating a nationwide leadership development program for coordinators and volunteers.
Popp first became involved with STEM-focused youth mentorship in her position as head instructor at the Pali Institute, an outdoor education facility in southern California. It was in this position that Popp says she “realized the vital impact these programs can have on students.”
She went on to pursue her master’s in biology at the University of Saskatchewan, studying the capacity of prey fishes to recognize hybrid fish predators. While working toward her advanced degree, she mentored youth as a volunteer in science outreach, designing STEM curriculum and lessons, and coordinating STEM outreach events.
As an HWS student, Popp excelled in the sciences. With the support of her advisers, Associate Professor of Biology Meghan Brown and Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird, Popp was inducted into Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, and was also named a Goldwater Scholar, the premier undergraduate award in the field of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. As a sophomore, she received the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship, which brought her to Kodiak, Alaska for an internship.
She also notes that the opportunity to conduct extensive summer and independent research, combined with the ability to take courses from a wide range of disciplines, gave her the knowledge and practical applications to break into and succeed in her career.
“Professors at HWS take the time to discover what is important to you; they work with you to help you achieve those goals and encourage their students to truly expand their thinking and make their passions a reality,” Popp says.