impact_story
Alumni Success Story

Virtual Exchange Allows University Student to Discover New Interests

New York Academy of Sciences’ Junior Academy

After participating in the New York Academy of Sciences’ Junior Academy for the first time in 2020, Julie noticed changes in herself – she had become a better communicator and collaborator, and had developed a love for teamwork and project implementation. The growth she saw in herself as a result of the program motivated her to continue staying engaged, ultimately joining three rounds of the virtual exchange and eventually altering her university experience because of the global experiences she had.

As a homeschooled student from Arkansas, Julie acknowledges that she is not the traditional student who is exposed to opportunities like the Junior Academy. In her case, she was fortunate enough to have a high school chemistry teacher who shared the opportunity with her and encouraged her to join. Once she completed the first round of the program, she realized there was so much potential to develop in different areas, gain competencies, and put test these skills in the Junior Academy program, so she decided to apply to participate in more rounds.

In the fall of 2022, Julie participated in her third Junior Academy challenge, working closely with a team of six individuals from the U.S. and MENA region. Having participated in two challenges before, Julie was able to apply the cross-cultural communication skills she gained from previous cycles to her interactions with her peers in this round. Collaborating with peers who share her interest in the intersection between medicine and technology allowed Julie to not only delve into her interests more, but intentionally learn about and from her peers through their different perspectives and experiences. Specifically, insights from a teammate in Israel opened her mind to more possibilities when brainstorming innovative solutions for the challenge they were tasked with. Their group’s proposed solution, a memory game application that uses virtual reality as a form of therapy for Alzheimer patients, was the winning project for the fall 2022 cycle. She credits their success with each teammate having contributed to the project effort in valuable ways while exchanging information about themselves along the way. 

Now a student at Harding University, Julie reflects on the skills she developed through the Junior Academy and how she applies them today in her university studies. From intercultural communication to collaboration skills, to learning how to deliver engaging presentations, Julie has picked up on a few key competencies, setting her up well for university life. “I have grown – it’s the Junior Academy that taught me how to present using facts while also making [presentations] interesting to the listener [while] communicating clearly.”

I know that problem solving is something that is fun, I know that it is something I can do, and I also know that it is something that involves teamwork, and I absolutely love working with people – the Junior Academy allowed me to see that in a STEM context specifically.

When deciding on a major to study, Julie was considering pre-pharmacy, but eventually shifted the focus of her studies to software development. She was able to realize that a career in computer science would involve problem-solving and working on projects collaboratively. “Because of the program, I knew that I enjoyed working with others and that I enjoyed [project-management]. That realization pointed me in the direction of eventually switching my major to software development.” She became confident that a career where she is able to problem-solve and work with people is something she would be good at because of her success in the Junior Academy program. “I know that problem solving is something that is fun, I know that it is something I can do, and I also know that it is something that involves teamwork, and I absolutely love working with people the Junior Academy allowed me to see that in a STEM context specifically.”

Something else that the Junior Academy helped Julie realize? Just how much of the world she has yet to see. “Virtual exchange sparked this desire to travel the world, especially the MENA region. I want to visit Israel and the other countries I’ve met people from.”

For Julie, virtual exchange has allowed her to build on certain skills with every program she participated in. The Junior Academy specifically gave her the space to explore different areas of interest, all while growing her teamwork and leadership skills. 

Junior Academy is implemented by New York Academy of Sciences and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.

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