Guest Blogger: Christin Monroe

by lianz

By: Christin Monroe

As of 2014, only 16% of high school students were proficient in math and interested in pursuing STEM careers and only 5% of US undergraduates earn degrees in STEM fields. These are alarming statistics!  It is one thing to hear these statistics and something completely different to actually see the impact it is having on our country.  Many schools have started STEM initiatives, but it isn’t enough for individual schools to have these programs.  It is our responsibility as scientists to contribute by showing these students exactly what it means to pursue a career in STEM. 

My name is Christin Monroe and I am a graduate student in the Chemistry department at Princeton University.  I have also mentored three high school students performing research in my lab over the past two summers.  At first I found the idea of mentoring a high school student in lab to be an unrealistic expenditure of time…but I was very wrong.  All of the high school students I have worked with have been extremely committed to the program and I find it very rewarding to introduce them to a real-life laboratory experience for the first time.

This is why I started volunteering at a local high school as an ACS Science Coach to help raise awareness of the opportunities that exist for students that choose to major in STEM careers.  Research performed by the National Academy Press to identify the most successful K-12 STEM outreach programs has shown that students exposed to research experiences, mentorships or internships in STEM fields are more likely than their peers to complete their studies STEM disciplines.  This is easier said than done.

The high school that I volunteer at is one of the top high schools in the country and is committed to finding opportunities for their students in STEM.  Yet they struggle to find opportunities for their students.  As a scientist and problem solver, this really bothered me and I am not alone…which is why I have teamed up with the Princeton chapter of the American Chemical Society and the Council on Science and Technology to run a unique STEM outreach program this August.

August 2016 STEM Outreach and Professional Development Program

This August the Princeton chapter of the American Chemical Society (PACS) with funding provided by the Council on Science and Technology (CST) at Princeton University will be running a unique STEM outreach program that will bring together selected high school students, graduate students and professional scientists from the triad of academia, industry and government.  This program will expose all students to the vast array of opportunities that exist in STEM fields, stimulate entrepreneurship, and will provide professional development workshops to prepare students for these careers.  The program will culminate with a one-day trip for the high school students to the Fall 2016 National ACS Meeting in Philadelphia.  A meeting with Donna Nelson, ACS President is planned. The participants will also put together a final presentation describing a significant discovery in Chemistry taken from primary literature.  Our marquee event, August 19th, will feature Bassam Shakhashiri, the 2012 ACS President, well known for his “Science is Fun!’ chemical demonstrations.  The event is open to the public and there will be a dinner following the seminar.

We are committed to explore new programs that will increase the number of students interested in STEM fields.  This year will be the pilot program and we hope that it will continue to expand.  If you are a graduate student interested in becoming a mentor of a high school student for the PACS/ CST STEM outreach program and getting the opportunity to participate in scientific professional development workshops please send an email to me, the program coordinator, Christin Monroe (


I also want to highlight another program that I volunteer for called Students2Science.  This unique program provides middle school and high school students with the opportunity to experience a real day in a research lab.  Students are given real life problems that they are asked to solve utilizing given laboratory experiments and critical thinking skills.  Not only do the students get to use sophisticated laboratory instruments, they get to partner with professional scientists to accomplish their goals.  At the end of the day the students leave with a true understanding of what it is to be a scientist.  The goal isn’t to get every student that passes through the laboratory doors to love science and pursue a STEM career, it is to provide a realistic look at what pursuing a career in STEM really means.  The staff at Students2Science make you feel like part of the family from the first time you walk through the doors and you feel that you have made a difference in these children’s lives.  It is so amazing to be around this group of people that are so enthusiastic about science and it reminds you of why you choose to go into science in the first place.  As a graduate student I see more failures than successes on a daily basis in my own research and it is fulfilling to volunteer at a place like Students2Science, because you get to make a difference and have a day of real success in the lab.  It is also a fulfilling day from a professional development standpoint because you, as a volunteer, get to interact with the same professionals as the high school and middle school students.  This is a great opportunity to network in a non-intimidating environment and to build up your connections outside of academia.

For more information about this program go to:

If you are as committed to increasing the scientific proficiency of young students as I am feel free to reach out to me, Christin Monroe ( to discuss ways in which you can get involved.




Braid Theory/Tesselations

Tesselations are another interesting mathematical concept, related to how well can we pack objects in an area, for example, squares and triangles. Another typical tesselation that happens naturally are hexagons. In certain braids where we pick bunches of hair a hexagonal pattern would appear naturally. Mathematicians are still now trying to figure out possible tesselations for different shapes, and maybe some of those could find their way onto a hairstyle!

Braid Theory spherical geometry

Our possible hairstyles would change a lot if our head was flat! Cornrows (attached to the head) need to follow certain rules of spherical geometry. For example, there is a mathematical theorem known as “hairy ball theorem” (n.a. The theorem;s name has sexual innuendo but that’s how it’s called…) that says that you can’t comb the hair on a sphere without getting a “cowlick” or a “whirl”. Or course our heads aren’t spheres full of hair, the face in particular is (usually) hairless, so we can do cornrows like this.