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Meet Sarah Girma: SCFG Mentor and Former Participant

We were very excited to have the opportunity to interview Sarah Girma, a Junior at Harvard College studying Molecular and Cellular Biology and Mathematics. Sarah participated in Science Club for Girls' programs beginning when she was 6 years old. She now returns weekly to serve as a mentor, sharing her passion for STEM with a younger generation of girls who follow in her footsteps.

What are you up to these days, Sarah?

I am wrapping up my junior year at Harvard College. I am pursuing a joint concentration (Harvard’s fancy term for “double major”) in Molecular & Cellular Biology and Mathematics. Outside of mentoring for SCFG, I serve as an Associate News Editor at Harvard’s student newspaper The Crimson, do gene editing research at the Liu Lab at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, do clinical research at the Clinical Decision Technology Laboratory at MGH, volunteer at the MGH Emergency Medicine Department, and serve as Vice President of the Eritrean and Ethiopian Students Association. I will be doing full-time research at the Liu Lab this summer and plan to write a senior thesis on gene editing and disease therapeutics. Outside of academics and extracurriculars, I love to explore restaurants in Boston with my friends, run, and play the trumpet and piano.

Tell us a little bit about your personal and educational background.

I am the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants. I also have a younger sister named Hannah who is entering Harvard this fall. I graduated from Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) in 2020 during the pandemic. During high school, I was extensively involved in music ensembles. I played the trumpet in the CCHS Concert, Jazz, and Pep bands and Pit Orchestra, the Boston Youth Symphony, the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School, the MMEA Eastern Senior District Concert Band and Orchestra, and the MMEA All-State Orchestra. As a first-year in college, I played the trumpet in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra.

What is your history with Science Club for Girls (SCFG)?

I have a long history with SCFG. I participated in SCFG for all of elementary school. I attended Cambridgeport School in Cambridge, MA. In middle school, I moved to Carlisle, MA with my family (about 40 minutes from Cambridge) and my school did not offer the SCFG program, unfortunately. When I returned to Cambridge to attend Harvard, I immediately checked if there was a SCFG Mentor Chapter. I’ve been mentoring for every semester of college so far and am currently in my sixth semester as a mentor. I plan to continue mentoring for my remaining two semesters at college. This past school year, I have also served on the Executive Board of Harvard's SCFG Mentor Chapter as the Recruitment Chair. My role entails recruiting new senior mentors at Harvard so we can expand the reach of SCFG. Additionally, I help organize study breaks and other events on campus to help foster community among SCFG mentors at Harvard. Next school year (2023-2024) I will be co-president of the Harvard Mentor Chapter, which I am very excited about.

When I was a child, SCFG provided me with a safe, welcoming environment to learn about science and sparked my passion to pursue STEM as a career. Even as a mentor, the organization continues to impact me. I feel immensely fulfilled and honored to serve as a mentor, instill a love for STEM in my mentees, and give back to the organization.

What is it like now being a Mentor, after being a participant for many years?

Serving as a mentor after having been a participant is such a surreal experience. The amount of joy I feel when I see the girls become excited by and curious about science — even when SCFG was fully virtual at the height of the pandemic — is indescribable. It is a truly unique, invaluable opportunity to help inspire and build the next generation of scientists.

What sparked your interest in STEM, specifically in medicine?

I was always fascinated by science as a child, but joining SCFG made science more interactive, concrete, and enjoyable for me. At SCFG, I became a part of a diverse community of young girls who were likewise passionate about science. I enjoyed collaborating with my peers as we shared our thoughts and perspectives to complete a common problem: how to build the highest tower out of gumdrops and toothpicks, the largest explosion from vinegar and baking soda, or farthest-flying paper airplane.

SCFG also introduced me to a more diverse, heterogeneous group of mentors, and this experience taught me a valuable lesson: that I could pursue science and that I belong in science.

My mother is a nurse, and so I was exposed to the hospital environment at a young age. She works weekend night shifts and her high level of dedication to her patients has always inspired me. I feel medicine is one of the most direct, impactful ways to apply scientific concepts to a great cause: saving lives. I’ve gotten to learn more about medicine through conducting clinical research at MGH, volunteering in the MGH Emergency Medicine Department as a transporter, and shadowing physicians and surgeons from a variety of specialties.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

In the future, I hope to enter medicine. I have already begun the process of applying to medical school and am submitting my primary application this month. I’m not completely sure of what specialty I want to enter, but right now, Emergency Medicine is very appealing to me. I’ve gotten to know more about the specialty through doing research, volunteering, and shadowing. I’ve learned that many unhoused and/or undocumented individuals rely on Emergency Medicine as their primary form of healthcare. I admire the accessibility and wide reach of the department. I also find the fast pace of the emergency room exciting.

What is your hope for the future of science and medicine?

I hope to see science and medicine someday become an inclusive space for all, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or gender. Science is not a very diverse space yet, but the field is making improvements. Thanks to organizations like SCFG, diversity and inclusivity in STEM have become more publicized topics. When I hear my mentees say how much they’re enjoying the experiments we do or express their desire to pursue STEM as a career, I feel hopeful for the future of science and medicine.

Hearing your passion, energy, and enthusiasm for STEM makes US feel hopeful for the future of science and medicine, Sarah! Thank you for all that you do for Science Club for Girls and for the larger community.

Sarah (right) with her little sister in Harvard Yard...long before she knew she'd attend college there!

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