Anjini Karthik is a senior at Saint Francis High School who is transforming middle school students into real scientists. She grew her own passion for scientific research into a nonprofit organization that stuffs science down middle school students’ throats. But in all seriousness, Anjini and Inspire101’s high school volunteers work tirelessly to engage, excite, and empower middle school students with science by establishing science bowl (think Jeopardy) and science fair mentoring programs at local middle schools. Want to learn more about her wild adventures? Read on!
Q: What motivated you to start Inspire101?
A: I started Inspire101 in freshman year. Back when I was in middle school, I had a great time in the science fair and other activities that really peaked my interest in science. When I got to high school, I realized that a lot of students wanted to participate in these kinds of activities, but never got the opportunities to in elementary or middle school. And when I worked with children for my service hours as a freshman, I realized that I wanted to continue with that by engaging students at an early age with STEM.
Q: Since part of your inspiration came from your own science fair projects, tell us about that! What cool things have you been researching in high school?
A: I’ve been working in university labs, and every year, I try to work on a project that is not only interesting to me, but also contributes towards a larger purpose. The project I’m working on right now focuses on detecting viruses faster and more effectively, and I’m experimenting with the flu virus. I’ve created a virus imprinted polymer, which can be thought of as a wipe that picks up a targeted virus. (Editor’s note: she tried to explain more about this awesome research to me, but my jelly-filled brain just wasn’t having it)
Q: What kind of setbacks have you faced since starting Inspire101 in freshman year? I’m sure you’ve worked with some crazy rascals over the years :P
A: Every kid has a different learning style and personality. In working on this initiative, I feel I have actually learned more than I have taught. In terms of setbacks, it is definitely tough to step out of your comfort zone. For me, I love science, but I had never been a mentor to someone else before. That responsibility can be a little daunting at first, but so rewarding. When I watch them dissolve soap in water or put up a board for their presentations, it is just so amazing to see such bright kids getting involved in fulfilling activities at an young age. And it’s exciting to be a part of that.
Q: What is your most memorable experience working with these kids?
A: It would be seeing them in action. One time I remember well, was when a kid I was working with was testing how varying levels of music affected concentration during a test. He was running back and forth between desks, around desks, turning up the volume, turning it back down. The whole scene was just so funny and heartwarming :). And what was the most shocking, was middle schoolers taking a test, WILLINGLY!
Q: Since you’ve had experience doing both research and starting a nonprofit outside of school, do you have any advice for students who want to start any sort of independent project?
A: Keep trying and don’t give up. It sounds cliche, but I think that it’s extremely important. In my case, I had to reach out and contact so many professors to find a lab that was willing to sponsor my research. You will face frustration at times, but the way to get through that is to remember that you love what you do and keep going. When I finally found a lab, it was one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life. Don’t let obstacles deter you from doing something that you want to.
Q: Future plans?
A: I’m definitely going to be stick around with Inspire101 when I go to college next year, but right now I’m working on “passing the torch” to my younger volunteers. In terms of immediate plans, we’re getting the kids ready and fired up for the regional science fair in March.
If you are interested in seeing Anjini’s kids in action and all the hard work they have put in over the school year, head on over to the annual Synopsys Championship at the San Jose Convention Center on Thursday, March 17th. Public viewing hours are from 5-6pm. See https://science-fair.org/ for more information.
Anjini recently gave a TED talk at TEDxRidderParkDriveED, an event that featured educational leaders and youth advocates, on the subject of asking questions and fostering curiosity in youth. If you want to hear more awesome insight from Anjini herself, click here!