Thank You, Discoveries Unlimited

“I couldn’t do it alone.”

– Captain Wendy B. Lawrence, four-time Space Shuttle astronaut, speaking on achieving her dream of flying in space

 Over two years ago, my mother told me about a fairly new program called Discoveries Unlimited, or DU. DU found mentors in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM, for girls in grades 6 through 8. She wondered if I wanted to join and I said sure. I thought that it might be kind of cool.

I love to be surprised. I love reading a book and finding it so many times better than I thought it would be. I love watching a movie that I thought would be about average and discovering that I love every minute of it. I love getting up in the morning and thinking that today will be normal, only to see a bit later that today will in fact be awesome. So I was extremely happy when Discoveries Unlimited turned out to mean far more to me than I had ever thought it would.

When I first met my mentor, Maralyn, I thought she was really weird. Actually, scratch that. I still think she’s really weird, but I like weird. I’m weird. I had wanted a mentor who worked in science or possibly engineering, and Maralyn works in technology. I was momentarily disappointed, until I realized that I had one of the best mentors in the program. Maralyn was at nearly every one of the monthly DU trips to a STEM business. When I emailed her for the weekly writing prompts, she always wrote back. I didn’t want to go into the field of technology back then and I still don’t, but Maralyn helped me to figure out more general career things. We know each other a lot better than most of the mentor and mentee pairs do, because we’ve communicated so much. I found out that we were mostly paired together because of all the non-STEM interests we shared. That gave us something to talk about, and then we began talking about STEM.

Back in 8th grade, I didn’t really know what career I wanted. I had either very vague ideas or too many ideas. But very slowly, over the course of two years, I began to get a better idea. DU helped me to figure out what careers I am interested in, even if the one most important to me isn’t directly related to STEM. When I first joined, I couldn’t really think of a STEM career that attracted me. Math? I did well in math, but I didn’t want that to be the focus of my job. Technology? Programming is not interesting to me. Engineering? Possibly, but designing something wouldn’t be as easy as it seems because you have to make sure that everything actually works. Science? Maybe.

I would most like to be an author someday. But I would also like to be a paleontologist. (And possibly a comedian or an actress.) I had thought of being a paleontologist before, but it never seemed like something I could achieve. I hadn’t known much about what, if any, STEM careers attracted me. I felt a little guilty for joining DU because it seemed like all the other girls knew exactly what careers they wanted and they all wanted STEM careers. But then I realized that I too was getting something from the program. I was figuring out what I wanted to do. The other girls were exploring what they wanted to do in more depth, but I was figuring out, which was just as important. And I realized that I was interested in a STEM career. Before DU, before all those monthly meetings and weekly writing prompts, I hadn’t thought too much about my STEM interests. I had focused more on creative interests, like writing.

Discoveries Unlimited changed my life. Because of it, I learned about a part of myself – a part that wanted to be a paleontologist. And now, I’ve combined that interest with my love of writing to create my Back In Time trilogy, where a brother and sister go back to the time of prehistoric beasts in order to defeat a mad scientist and save the world.

Discoveries Unlimited has given me many happy memories. Most of my best memories of 8th grade relate to DU. I remember meeting my mentor and realizing that she was weirder but better than most of the others. I remember standing in the rain for 2 hours, waiting for a local parade to start because DU was marching in it and we’d accidentally been told to show up earlier than was necessary. I remember touring a generating station and realizing just how much work it takes to bring electricity to people. I remember creating a now-never-used blog with Maralyn at one of the events. I remember being surprised when Cathie Dull, one of the leaders, asked me at that very same event if I would write a blog for DU. I remember the giddiness we all felt when Sally Ride was coming to speak to us! I also remember the disappointment we felt when it was announced that she couldn’t visit. I remember the disbelief I felt when Cathie Dull said that another astronaut would be there instead, and would I want to represent DU at an invite-only reception where I could meet the astronaut? I remember when Wendy B. Lawrence showed up all of a sudden – I was talking to someone, Maralyn, I think, and when I looked up, there was Captain Lawrence! I have had so many amazing opportunities and good times with DU.

I spent last year being a special kind of mentor for just the new girls. I answered questions and sometimes hung out with those girls when their mentors hadn’t shown up. This year, DU is working to develop a program for the 9th-grade girls (and one strange 10th-grader who is sometimes known as Nevillegirl) so that they won’t really have to leave the program. We would mentor 5th-grade girls, so DU is expanding by 2 grades. (Three if you count me.) It sounds fun.

But at the same time I first heard about their new program and was thinking that it sounded cool, I was thinking that I had gotten all I needed from DU. And so this is a roundabout way to both thank DU and say what follows next, but I will not be joining Discoveries Unlimited in the fall. I have learned so much from participating and I will miss it severely. But I’ve gotten everything I can get from it, I think. I also need to choose what to continue and what to put aside, because I’m quite busy. This was not an easy decision to make because I love DU.

And now, for some thanks. Thank you to the other mentees and mentors for talking to me at the events – I loved making other nerdy friends and I can’t understand why some of the other girls keep to themselves so much. In particular, I would like to thank Madeline & Adam, Emily, Anne & Brad, Maggie, Ava, and Laura. Thank you, Wendy B. Lawrence, for speaking to us. It was amazing to meet you. Thank you, Maralyn, for encouraging me and asking me so many questions! Thank you, Cathie Dull and Jeni Elkins, for starting Discoveries Unlimited!

I couldn’t have done any of this learning alone.

Live long and prosper.

About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
This entry was posted in Discoveries Unlimited, Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thank You, Discoveries Unlimited

  1. Mz Maralyn says:

    Nevillegirl,

    I am truly humbled and honored. It is awesome to know that Discoveries Unlimited has influenced your life and opened your eyes to new possibilities for your future.

    It has been a pleasure to see you develop and grow as an amazing young woman over the past 2 years. I am flattered to hear that some of my questions helped to stir up some of your amazing thoughts and dreams.

    Dream for the stars and make your travel plans to get there. Enjoy your launch and journey as much as the destination and all the while realizing that everything is just beginning anew.

    Did you know that your post of 1255 words is definitely beating some of mine! 🙂 Write to your heart’s content. You go girl!

  2. Jeni Elkins says:

    It has been wonderful to work with you and DU will miss having you around! Feel free to touch base with us anytime!

    Jeni

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