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Symposium under founder Anita Chetty’s magnifying glass

April 17, 2016

For Upper School Science Department Chair Anita Chetty, no research is complete until shared with other peers and scholars – one of the main reasons Chetty was prompted to gather twenty sets of parents and students into the gym in April of 2006 for dozens of poster sessions and talks the first ever Harker Research Symposium.

“I wanted to have a non-competitive forum where students would simply gather and share,” she said. “The only prize was simply just being able to describe what you did whether you had really significant findings or not. It was just about your findings and what you learned from them was you went through the process.”

With this exact vision, Chetty has been able to garner over 600 students, faculty, and parents alike into Nichols Hall annually for the Symposium. The most recent one taking place this past Saturday, April 9, 2016.

Chetty has always created and planned the symposium in hopes of mimic a conference that any scientist would go to. In order to this, Chetty starts planning for the poster sessions, talks, keynote speakers the minute the previous Symposium ends.

“The other element that I wanted to have in there was to illustrate to students how research and development actually leads to career opportunities, drives the economy, changes people lives, so I knew it was important to have corporations there discussing what they were marketing or what they were developing,” she said.

Besides forming a platform for Upper and Middle school students to showcase their scientific research, Chetty also hoped that the Symposium would be a home for inspiration for younger students to cultivate a love of STEM, which led to the creation of STEMBuddies.

“Now this is a K-12 event,” she said. “It allows Harker to showcase, especially, the Upper School, the kind of technology we have and gives us the opportunity to show the caliber of teaching that is going on.”

Chetty hopes with the incorporation of the many high pieces of scientific technology like the anatomy table, the thermo camera, and chromatography that future and current parents and students not only imbibe Harker’s philosophy of teaching in a highly hands-on and very interactive manner but also feel a part of the symposium experience. Something that Chetty and WISTEM club members hoped to do with the usage of the app, ConnexMe.

“We want the audience to engage with the speaker asking questions which we have done for a couple of years now where they vote on the question so that not just any random questions get asked,” she said.

However, the creation and envisioning of an event as large and as intricate as the Symposium is not done by Chetty alone. With the help of parent volunteers, students, and all Harker departments, Chetty is able to come up with a topic and keynote speaker best appropriate for the following year.

In most occasions, Chetty brainstorms with parent volunteers to see what topics are out in the industry right now and will be of interest to Harker students. Next year, the keynote speaker for the Research Symposium centered on artificial intelligence and virtual reality will be Director of Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University’s Dr. Fei-Fei Li.

“We are doing this only because Mr. Keller came back from a TedTalk and he was really fascinated by artificial intellgivence and I have been trying for several years now to get someone to come from Google or Stanford and was finally able able to get a speaker so that will now a drive a lot of the corporate exhibitors,” she said.

Chetty explains that finalizing the speaker this early will allowe her to find appropriate workshops for next year and finding corportations related to virtual reality.

“There is a lot of networking that I do throughout the year, but I have my team here at Harker also,” she said.

However, the final piece to making the Symposium fully representative of an official science conference came this year with the inclusion of workshops. Workshops were run by Marcos Woehrmann on bioinformatics, Scott Pflaumer on how to make and take your own speaker, and Somnath Banerjee on machine learning and predictive analysis.

After eleven years of the Symposium, Chetty remains amazed at the caliber and dedication of all students participating or attending the Symposium.

“I think it is important to challenge our students to think about the issues that are impacting our planet right now and how it is that we might come up with solutions for some of those problems,” she said. “So I want to incoportate that in so that not only do we have the posters and the talks and interactive activities, that we also have an opporuntiy for Harker students to engage in dialogue with one another trying to come up with global solutions.”

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