I thought October 5, 2021, would be a normal day. I sat in a diner with my family after school, scrolling through my email and sipping a mint chocolate chip milkshake. It had been two months since my NASA STEM Enhancement in Earth Science (SEES) internship ended– or so I thought.
Suddenly, I received an intriguing email. The subject line read, “AGU Fall Meeting 2021 Abstract Status Notification.” I had forgotten that my Mosquito Mapping team submitted an abstract in the first place. Taking a break from my milkshake, I curiously opened the email:
“On behalf of the AGU Fall Meeting Program Committee, I am pleased to inform you that the abstract listed below is accepted for presentation at #AGU21 Fall Meeting, which will take place in New Orleans, LA and online everywhere from 13-17 December.
“Every year, AGU Fall Meeting unites >25,000 attendees from 100+ countries in the Earth and space sciences community to share their work and ideas and discuss solutions to the largest challenges facing our planet. Indeed, the meeting theme this year is “Science is Society,” and many sessions and plenary talks will explore this important connection.”
“Woah!” I exclaimed to my family. They asked me what I was excited about?
“My research team’s abstract was accepted for presentation at a giant AGU meeting!”
I later learned that my team was one of the first to represent NASA SEES at a science conference.
From that moment on, my teammate Sanjana Anand and I planned how we would present our research on December 16 at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. I lived in Virginia while she lived in Missouri, so we did so through FaceTime calls and WhatsApp texts.
On December 15, I boarded a plane for a three-hour flight to New Orleans with my dad. We soon found ourselves at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. From there, we arrived at our hotel before getting ready to venture into the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where the AGU Fall Meeting was. I never imagined that being in Louisiana for the first time would entail my participation at a science conference.
Before anyone could enter the science conference, participants were required to pick up their participation badges. I was very excited to receive my participant badge; my name appeared in bold letters, and under it read “NASA SEES Earth System Explorers” and “High School Student.” For some people, I had to clarify that SEES was an acronym (STEM Enhancement in Earth and Space Science) since they thought my badge meant NASA was seeing Earth System Explorers (although, I guess NASA technically was).
After picking up my badge, my dad and I went to end the day by trying authentic Creole cuisine at the Gumbo Shop, which is rumored to be one of the best places for gumbo in New Orleans.
Topped with parsley and rice, the gumbo was amazing: from its aromatic roux to its flavorful combination of meat and vegetables, I can still recall its savory goodness. Other AGU Fall Meeting attendees gathered there as well, and the restaurant was quickly packed. For many of us, it was our first time in New Orleans, and we were eager to experience its specialties. I’m almost certain that the restaurant has never been so full of scientists.
December 16 was the big day. From 4-6 p.m., Sanjana and I would be presenting our research as Mosquito Mappers. I was ecstatic! But before any presentations could begin, I had to meet up with her first. Since our research was sponsored by Bright STaRs or the Bright Students Training as Research Scientists program, we were invited to an exclusive luncheon to network with other high school students. I also met with Anna Ager, a Mosquito Mapper from a separate team. The three of us stuck together and met with our peers: fellow high school UT-Austin researchers and a group of students who launched RamSat, a satellite mission. Our groups instantly connected through our passion for science, and everyone was encouraging and supportive of each of our scientific endeavors.
Following the luncheon, Anna, Sanjana, and I went to the convention center's main hall, exploring various booths. We were introduced to CEOs, engineers, geologists, and other scientific professionals eager to share their work with us. Many of them were also willing to exchange contact information and social media. Additionally, we stopped by a job information meeting to discover how scientists are hired. I asked the presenter if he had any advice for high school students, and he said that networking was the best way to start a scientific career from any age.
It was soon time to present. Sanjana and I set up a Zoom meeting for virtual attendees and hung up our poster in the poster hall. I had a script ready for the first person who approached us, and at first, I was nervous about speaking. However, after getting used to presenting, I ditched the script and became increasingly excited to share our science. Not many people knew of NASA’s involvement in Earth science and mosquito mapping, and we were happy that our research was informative. Many attendees were thrilled whenever we mentioned how one of the goals of our research was to assist with the eradication of mosquitoes. We ended up sharing our research with AGU, GLOBE Observer, and NASA employees. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, and those two hours of presenting did not feel like two hours at all!
To celebrate our presentation, Anna, Sanjana, and I went to LUNA Fête, an annual light festival celebrating accomplishments in science and technology. The light show highlighted historical figures who contributed significantly to science, featuring notable scientists like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. It was amazing to witness the magical projections and light art, truly serving as a perfect way to end the science conference.
Now, whenever I sip a mint chocolate chip milkshake, I will be reminded of my amazing experience at the AGU Fall Meeting, where I learned that science truly is society.
Avery is a high school student at Loudon County High School in Virginia. Her virtual internship is part of a collaboration between the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and the NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC) to extend the TSGC Summer Enhancement in Earth Science (SEES) internship for U.S .high school (http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/sees-internship/). She shares her experience presenting her SEES Earth System Explorers research at AGU 2021 in New Orleans, LA, in this guest blog post.