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Kaci Fankhauser

Story

My STEM journey has been full of happy accidents. Growing up as an animal lover and nature nerd, the only career path I ever considered was becoming a veterinarian. When I was in primary and secondary school, there just wasn’t a lot of visibility for all of the STEM career options out in the world. When I went to college, though, two things happened that ended up broadening my perspective immensely.

First, I discovered the world of scientific research. One of the hardest adjustments I had to make in college was being away from my

animals, so when one of my freshman biology instructors talked with us about how he was studying chameleon behavior I asked if I could volunteer to help take clean cages or do feedings. The chameleon care was covered, but they referred me to a friend who needed help raising butterflies in a lab down the hall. I met with the butterfly researcher with the sole intention of getting my animal fix, but pretty quickly got hooked on scientific exploration! I stayed with that lab for the entirety of my undergrad career, and ended up doing an independent research project my senior year. I fell in love with asking questions about the natural world and then designing and implementing experiments around those questions.

Second, all freshman were required to take a freshman seminar course. On a whim, I signed up for an anthropology course in lieu of college 101 - it didn't have anything to do with my veterinary aspirations, but it sounded interesting nonetheless. That single 1-credit course led to me getting a minor in anthropology, during which I learned so much about how humans influence and are influenced by science.

After college, I found myself at a crossroads. I wanted to find a job where I could use my biology degree without being anchored to lab work. One day while scrolling through job listings that had the key word “science” I found an AmeriCorps VISTA position with SciTech Institute. The role described getting people excited about and engaged in science, as well as positioning youth as leaders in their own science education. It was an unexpected and exciting opportunity to combine my love of science with my understanding of human cultures from my anthropology minor. I had no idea what the position would look like - but I knew that I wanted to know more!

Fast forward to Summer 2021. I’ve been with SciTech for 5 years now, and in that time I have worked with people from all walks of life and with all sorts of jobs with the goal of increasing access to and engagement with STEM. I get to be a teacher, partnership builder, outreach coordinator, program manager, and community organizer - all the while embracing my love of science. When I was a student, I had an incredibly limited view of what career opportunities existed in STEM fields; I hope that through my work with SciTech Institute, people of all ages have the chance to broaden their STEM horizons!

The moral of my story: follow your curiosity! There’s no single “right” path to a career you want - and what’s more, I would encourage you to focus on figuring out what you love to DO, not what you want to BE. STEM is a journey, not a destination!