Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Pointing me in a crooked line..."

Amazing what a difference a year makes.  This time last year, I had just gotten my oral typhoid vaccine and come down with a fever of 101, keeping me away from work for a couple days.  I was also contemplating the thought of there really being a place where the streets have no name. 

Now all that seems so far away.  I’ve thrown myself into my new(ish) role at GSK with a sense of passion and abandon that seemed impossible just a couple months ago when I was still completely blindsided by returning to my “normal” life.  My adrenaline-charged learning binge is keeping me from spending too much time reflecting on my experiences in Ghana, but luckily there are people who keep pulling me back to my time in Kumasi.  The Peace Corps volunteer I know who headed to Ghana in June has been posting on her experiences over there.  I really enjoy reading about a different side of Ghana while reminiscing about my own time there. 


As part of my recently found enthusiasm for work, I’m looking into starting a formal science volunteering program at GSK RTP.  I’ve been considering this idea for some time now, but a recent move by GSK pushed me into action.  A couple weeks ago, Deidre Connolly (head of North America Pharma) met with President Obama and business leaders at the White House to announce a $10 million donation to support education reform.  GSK also committed to assign two PULSE volunteers per year to programs that focus on STEM education and drop-out prevention initiatives in the United States. 

In reading the GSK story, I stumbled across an item in the news that said that the number of STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering and math) in the US grew three times faster and paid better than other careers over the last ten years—something that most engineering undergrads realized when we chose our majors.  The next ten years are only going to increase the number of STEM jobs available but there won’t be enough US graduates with the right skills for the jobs.  That’s where initiatives like science volunteering come in.  I still keep in touch with some of the girls I’ve mentored through the Women and Math Mentoring program.  One of them has even followed in my footsteps and switched into chemical engineering at State.  It was a proud moment when she messaged me on Facebook to tell me of her major change.

Rather than reinventing the wheel in trying to start up the science volunteering program, I recently spoke with someone in UM who started up such a program there.  She also happens to be the PULSE volunteer headed over to Ghana to join the School-to-School project in October.  She and I are both motivated by sharing our passion for science with the next generation.  Hearing her talk about preparing to go reminded me of all the things I was sorting out last year: housing, clothing, supplies…   I have to admit that I’m a bit jealous of her and the adventure she’s about to undertake.  Only in the last few weeks have I really started to adjust back to my life in NC and yet I’m ready to head out again. 

With these thoughts in mind, I looked at my weekend shopping through a different set of eyes.  While in Ghana I learned the meaning of the lyrics of the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.  Even with the more limited selection as compared to the US, I could always get what I needed.  I need to remember this mindset anytime I set foot in a store as I’m still struggling with the overwhelming number of choices in the US.

At least I’m doing much better on my flexibility, something else I was hoping to improve through my PULSE assignment.  Research never works the first time—if it did, it wouldn’t be called re-search—and often doesn’t work on the schedule I expect.  I’m getting used to my day starting out with one plan and ending with a completely different one without getting stressed out about it.  I hope I can hold onto this flexible mindset as our projects progress.

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