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From science fair to lab: Finding my place in STEM

Growing up in rural Warren County, the largest type of work people find themselves doing is agriculture. Agriculture is seen as the forgotten industry, but there is still a wide opportunity for technological improvement. Myself and two other students saw this opportunity and decided to come up with a solution to improve the water irrigation systems that many farmers use. After many attempts at designing a system to improve water delivery, we finally came upon a solution that focused on manipulating and creating a hydraulic ram pump.  This monumental experience allowed us to present our work at the state science fair, which in turn enabled us to be seen by many prestigious scientists. This helped us learn that our experiment also has the potential to be used in third-world countries to distribute water.

Angel Vaughan took the opportunity in high school to take part in several science experiments. Courtesy of Angel Vaughan.

My name is Angel Vaughan and I have attended Warren County Schools most of my educational life and have enjoyed the opportunities to explore in STEM. This greatly began with my experiences with competing in science fairs within my high school. This was the chance for me to be able to take the scientific ideas that I had and develop and exhibit them in a way where others would be able to experience my knowledge as well as be educated with a concept that could possibly be deemed as needed within society.

These science fair experiences gave me the opportunity to be able to test electrolytes within various beverages, create a hydraulic ram water pump that can pump water from lower elevations to higher elevations without electricity, and find the best way to store medications to last longer through an iodine clock reaction. Through all of these STEM-related projects, I had many different teachers or mentors that were more than willing to help me through the duration of the development of my experiments. Without these dedicated educators and their guidance, I believe that I would not have been able to understand and grow into the person and student that I am today.

Though I have greatly benefited from these projects and knowledge, this experience may be different for others who attend the same school as me. This difference could be because the connections and progress that I have made took effort. For example, not all of the students within my county choose to take full advantage of the education provided for them, and they do not always choose to give the optimal effort to be able to succeed to the best of their ability. However, those who did decide to put forth the effort and effectively participate in these opportunities have succeeded greatly and gained life-provoking experiences.

Angel Vaughan presenting at a science fair. Courtesy of Angel Vaughan

Another STEM-related experience that I have had within my high school education is going to the Biogen Community Lab and participating in hands-on activities. This experience was very eye-opening and helped me see that I would enjoy going into a field that would involve science in some way. Within this lab at Biogen, we were given the opportunities to apply the knowledge we have previously learned to be able to find which medicine would serve the right purpose for a given ailment. We also were able to use various instruments and wear apparel that we had never seen or used before. This was due to the fact that we live in a county that does not receive the same amount of funds as other counties within the state.

With this extraordinary lab participation, I was able to learn new methods of how to approach various scientific situations. In my high school, we only get to complete a small number of labs within classes due to limited resources. When we do get the chance to complete labs within the school, they can be very special and entertaining because they are minimal and rare. However, I feel that the labs at Biogen were different for all of the students that attended because it was extremely informative and special, which in turn, gave us the opportunity to complete an adventure that made us feel as if we could accomplish higher goals after we graduate high school.

Students loading a microcentrifuge at the Biogen Community Lab. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

The previously stated experiences caused me to realize that I wanted to pursue a career in a field that involves science, while also helping people. So, I have decided to pursue a career in Occupational Therapy at North Carolina Wesleyan University, where I will attend this fall. My experiences will allow me to integrate so many skills that I was presented into my future endeavors as well as develop these skills in others. I greatly feel that I would not be in such a triumphant position in my life at a young age if it were not for the STEM activities that I have been able to experience and the dedicated people that have supported me through the years. I understand the experiences that I have had are something that not everyone has the opportunity to do, especially in the county that I live.

This perspective is part of our Biogen series. Follow along at

Angel Vaughan

Angel Vaughan is a senior at Warren New Tech High School. After high school, she will be attending North Carolina Wesleyan College to pursue a degree in Pre-Occupational Therapy or Psychology. Her life goal is to work with children with Spina Bifida, Autism, or Down Syndrome. Outside of school, Vaughan volunteers and is involved in community and church-lead activities.