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Summer STEM experiences enlighten students

Silicon Valley is renowned for its innovative startup culture, but it’s also home to countless summer programs for high school students interested in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM). 

Many Paly students found ways this past summer to immerse themselves in their respective areas of STEM interest through various forms of lab work, internships or office experiences. 

Over the summer, Paly senior Evan Baldonado was involved in a program called Stanford Young Earth Investigators (SEYI), which allows high school students to learn science first-hand through work in research laboratories, where they can analyze data and work one-on-one with scientists.

Baldonado has always been interested in STEM, but one of the defining moments for him was creating his aquarium website:, which provides information such as facts about different aquarium fish. 

He continued to pursue his love of STEM and is now a part of Paly’s Science Olympiad team, where he has participated in competitions on topics ranging from ecology to remote sensing.

“A lot of the material that I know because of AquariumKids and competing on Paly’s Science Olympiad team came in handy at SEYI,” Baldonado said.

Through his experience at Stanford Young Earth Investigators, Baldonado was able to experience a professional research environment through hands-on activities.

“I learned a lot about Antarctic phytoplankton communities, as that was the subject of our research. We want to know how climate change will affect these populations, and in turn, how well these phytoplankton will be able to remove carbon from the atmosphere.”

Evan Baldonado

Research is an essential  part of the STEM field, and  having exposure to real world applications is crucial to a basic understanding of different concepts.

“I learned that I really enjoy research, and I could see myself pursuing research in the future,” Baldonado said.

The summer of 2017 was Baldonado’s first time participating in SEYI and he returned the next summer in order to continue his research in that particular field.

“I enjoyed it so much that I decided to continue with the program this last summer,” Baldonado said. “I have met soww many inspiring people from SEYI, and it has been such a great experience to work with them.” 

While biology is one branch of STEM, others may choose to go in  a different direction, although still under the umbrella of STEM.

“I’m interested in STEM, particularly astrophysics, mainly because of how much we still have to learn,” Paly senior Nick Padmanabhan said. 

Researchers are constantly working to improve our understanding about matters here on Earth and in space. Many STEM areas arose out of the need to address and solve problems in society and in human health, and I find this fundamental motivation inspiring.

Padmanabhan chose to apply for the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory internship to pursue his interest in astrophysics, work with professional researchers and conduct independent research.

The Lockheed Martin internship started at the beginning of the summer of 2018 and will extend through the summer of 2019, involving lab work for several hours a week during the school year.

Padmanabhan currently analyzes and studies data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), an orbiting satellite that sends a constant data stream back to labs as it observes the sun. 

This experience has taught him new ways of analyzing data through computer programs and algorithms. He has also learned about the complex processes occuring in the sun and on its surface. 

“I learned about this internship primarily through postings and flyers at Paly,” Padmanabhan said. “It’s a great opportunity, and I recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing independent research in the future.”

Additionally, STEM programs extend to even more areas of research and growth–specifically computer science.

“I really like the logic and creativity of computer science. I’ve always loved solving problems and applying math to the real world, so programming is the perfect combination of all of my interests.”

Senior Nisha McNealis

Over the summer, McNealis interned at Cepton, a 3D provider for automotive, industrial and mapping applications. 

“I chose to intern at Cepton because it was a small startup so I could make an impact and work on really cool projects and I liked the energetic, intellectually challenging environment when I talked to my interviewer and visited the company,” McNealis said.

Through her internship, McNealis was able to learn about quality control and product management using a tool called Jira in order to create a product management platform for the company. 

Additionally, she learned a programming language called “C#” in order to contribute to the company code. Most importantly, she was able to gain experience in working in  an office setting, from using Outlook to run basic office necessities to  scheduling and running meetings.

“It was amazing to see firsthand how a real company works, and I learned a lot in a relatively short amount of time,” McNealis said. “I would advise anyone who wants an internship over the summer to start looking early and reach out to as many people as possible– it can be awkward, but it definitely pays off.”

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