Full Circle: Undergraduate Student Returns to Youth Science Program that Sparked Career Path

Maya Hardison can list kayaking as one of her many professional skills thanks to an NC State University camp she participated in five years ago. As an eighth grader, Hardison was introduced to aquatic science through the Falls Lake Forensic Science Program. This hands-on STEM program inspires middle school students to pursue science careers related to aquatic ecology and water resources management. Youth participants have the opportunity to engage in science activities at various locations including Blue Jay Pointe County Park, Falls Lake Dam, Walnut Creek Wetland  Center, North Cary Water Reclamation Facility and Fred G. Bond Metro Park.

It was during this program that Hardison first set foot in a kayak. Smiling, Hardison recalls, “I tipped over within three minutes, but I was able to get back in the kayak while still in the water.” Her mentor Elle Allen was there that day and proudly added that the windy conditions made Hardison’s feat of righting herself even more impressive.

Maya Hardison (far right) kayaks on Lake Johnson in Raleigh, NC during her internship with Sound Rivers. Credit: Sound Rivers

Hardison is now a research intern for Allen in the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology while pursuing a degree in Environmental Technology and Management at NC State University. “I’ve always been interested in science. It’s always been something I loved, but I didn’t have a lot of exposure to science before the [Falls Lake Forensic Science] program,” said Hardison . Today as an intern, she assists with water quality research and outreach programs. It will all come full circle for Hardison this summer when she mentors current eighth grade camp participants in the same program she attended as a child. 

“We are so proud of Maya and our young students.” shares Allen. “As educators, we hope our program in some way opens their minds and positively influences their choices in education, careers and activities related to science and the environment. We rarely get confirmation of that, when we do, we are thrilled and it makes the effort feel so much sweeter.”

The conservation of local waterways motivates Hardison in her studies. “I want to do my part to keep environmental protection as a priority,” she explains. “Environmental laws are enacted in reaction to environmental disasters, such as the Clean Water Act, but prevention is important.” 




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