As an undergraduate student and Goldwater Scholar at the Central State University in Ohio, Kayla Smith shares her undergraduate experience. Kayla is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering.
Kayla loved the Sciences in High School, especially Physics, Mathematics & Astronomy. In her junior year, Kayla actually wanted to join the military, but she failed the physical due to bad eyesight.
Kayla joins our podcast to share her undergraduate college journey at Central State University, winning the Goldwater Scholarship, UG Space Research experiences as CalTech WAVE Fellow, and Advice for High Schoolers.
Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:
Episode Title: Kayla Smith of Central State University: Goldwater Scholar, Environmental Engineering, and HBCU Outreach.
Kayla loved the Sciences in High School, especially Physics, Mathematics & Astronomy. In her junior year, Kayla actually wanted to join the military, but she failed the physical due to bad eyesight.
Kayla joins our podcast to share her undergraduate college journey at Central State University, winning the Goldwater Scholarship, UG Space Research experiences as CalTech WAVE Fellow, and Advice for High Schoolers.
In particular, we discuss the following with her:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Memorable Quote: “ I want to see more HBCU students winning. I want to see more HBCUs, even given the opportunity of knowing what the Goldwater Scholarship is. I didn't know what it was. And I learned from my advisor, I want more students to learn from their academic advisors, I want more students to learn from their friends and their friends and their friends.” Kayla Smith.
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
It was my sophomore year spring semester and my academic advisor, he reached out to me and he said, Hey, you're doing really well. Do you know who Cal Tech is? And I was like, no did a quick Google search and I was like, Oh, okay. Yes, I do know who Cal Tech is. Now. Why do you ask? Well, there's a professor there that is looking for a student and environmental engineering and environmental policy, environmental studies, something along those lines. And I recommended you and I said, Wow!
That is Kayla Smith, a Goldwater Scholar who is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering at the Central State University in Ohio.
Hello! I am your host Venkat Raman.
Kayla loved the Sciences in High School.
Especially Physics, Mathematics & Astronomy.
Astronomy pushed her into space sciences.
In her junior year, Kayla actually wanted to join the military and serve the country.
Unfortunately she failed the physical due to her bad eyesight.
She then decided to go to college to pursue Environmental Engineering
Venkat Raman 1:42
Kayla joins our podcast to share her undergraduate college journey at Central State University, Winning the Goldwater Scholarship, UG Space Research experiences as CalTech WAVE Fellow, and Advice for High Schoolers.
Venkat Raman 1:37
Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives, Five Highlights from the podcast:
[Overall Central State Experience]
Yes, so I'm a fourth of fifth year, I'm a environmental engineering major. So I could have finished in four years. But that would have required me to do classes over the summer. So I chose to do research over the summer. And so that pushed me into a five year program, but I'm loving it.
[Why Central State?]
I knew that I wanted to go somewhere in space science, but also knew that having an engineering background can help me with that too, especially environmental learning about our planet in a way where we can find ways to fix the planet, find ways to find solutions that will sustain themselves, not just temporary fixes. And that really stood out to me as well. So that's why I chose Central State.
And so classes are tremendously harder. They are tremendously more rigorous. However, I just take it one thing at a time. And that has worked for me for the past almost four years.
And so I got introduced to it. And I applied and I just put my best foot forward. And by the grace of God, I won. And I think that it's so amazing to be surrounded by so many other talented, inspirational, amazing Goldwater scholars that want to change the world in ways that I've never even heard of before. I've learned so much being in the Goldwater scholar Council in the past year. And it's been amazing to just bounce ideas off of other scholars to understand things from other scholars from completely different disciplines. You know.
[Advice for High Schoolers]
Just chase your dreams. I would say never give up on what you want to do. Yes, I wanted to go into space sciences. And here I am doing research in space sciences. I think that if you keep true to your dreams and aspirations and your goals, you will be good for us your life.
Venkat Raman 3:57
These were the Hi5s, brought to you by College Matters. Alma Matters.
Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Venkat Raman 4:08
Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Kayla.
So without further ado, here is Kayla Smith!
Venkat Raman 4:17
So if you're ready, we can jump right in.
Kayla S 4:21
Venkat Raman 4:22
Very well then. Let's start off with a little bit of your experience so far, your college experience. Tell us a little bit about that.
Yes, so I'm a fourth of fifth year. I'm a environmental engineering major. So I could have finished in four years but that would have required me to do classes over the summer. So I chose to do research over the summer. And so that kind of pushed me into a five year program but I'm loving it and a Central State University. It's in Wilberforce Ohio, one of two historically black colleges or HBCUs in Ohio, the public one and the Wilberforce is the private one. Yeah, golden riders. And yeah, I've been here, I've been in Ohio my whole life, I've only been in school physically for three years because of COVID. So kind of threw off my whole college experience and what I thought college was gonna be like, at the beginning, when I got into college, it was, um, COVID hit this then following spring semester, so I only really got a full fall semester to be on campus. And then, you know, when Spring Break hit of that spring semester, we were online for the rest of the year, and then the following year after that. And so it was a little rocky to start off with, but I've been in person fully for the past year and a semester, this is probably my fourth semester being in person fully since COVID. The initial shutdown. And so yeah, it's been it's been really great to kind of, honestly, I try not to look at that experiences as negative. I think when COVID hit, it made me persevere more, it made me be more determined to get good grades to overly communicate with my professors. And so I just try to look from a positive standpoint in some aspects. But yeah, it really did shift college for me. So yeah, here I am now and I am on my, my spring semester of my fourth year, and I will graduate next spring and I'm applying to grad school in the fall, so
Venkat Raman 6:22
Maybe we can go back a little time. Tell us how you were in high school. What? What kind of interest did you have?
Yes, so in high school, I was a bit of a nerd. I still love academia. I love learning. I love academics. I love reading. I love writing. But I'm also in the band. So I played flute from fifth grade to 12th grade. Absolutely loved it. I love all my bandmates. I love marching band. I love the community I was able to build there. It was really nice to be a part of the nerd gang but still popular because everyone loved the band. games we will play at halftime and even though people I would never even talk to in the hall be like yeah que luego Kala and I'm like, I never before I guess you could say marching band and band in general, maybe step out of my comfort zone. They also really taught me healthy competition as well. So when at least at my high school, we had a concert band for the underclassmen. And then when ensemble for the upperclassmen and cheer competitions became a lot more prevalent and more serious once you got to win ensemble. And luckily I became I became first chair my senior year. And so it was really cool to kind of enhance my competitive skills through a musical standpoint, I think that really helped me in academia as well. All this is is healthy competition, you know, and putting your best foot forward. And understanding that everyone else has their certain skill sets. Everyone else has their strengths and their weaknesses are room to or places where they can grow. But I think high school band really taught me healthy competition. So I love dance. Aside from band, I was a Girl Scout. I was also a part of the Betty Shabazz Delta jumps Academy. So my mom's in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, and Hertz award, we had a kind of a program for African American females that were in high school. And so I would go to that twice a month. And that was amazing for me just to see other African American females in school like me, and yeah, we were only 14 through 18. But it was still really good. It really good. It really good outlet for me during high school. I also just love to volunteer I love I love participating in diversity, diversity outreach events. So I was a diversity day leader at my school for two years in a row. And I absolutely love that I love spreading awareness around topics such as that. And so I that's where my love for diversity and inclusion and di and everything like that kind of blossomed. And yeah, so that's who I was in high school. I tried to be as multidimensional as I could in high school. But that obviously has grown a little bit since I've become in college. But yeah, so I was a nerd, but I loved I love people. So
Venkat Raman 9:12
What kind of courses were you into? And what did you like?
Kayla S 9:15
Yes. So I was still very interested in math, science. But I had to take obviously, the English classes, I took astronomy my senior year, absolutely love that. And that kind of pushed me into space sciences as well. Um, I think in high school, I couldn't really be as versatile with my class election as I can in college. And so we all took the math, the English, the math, the science, but I think what really stood out to me the most was physics. I love physics. I loved astronomy, like I said, so again, I think both of those classes along with math kind of pushed me into what space science was and under like just my overall general interest in the cosmos and the universe, and so I think those are my favorite classes throughout high school. And I would recommend any high schoolers out there, if you can take an astronomy elective, even if you're not a goal planning on, you know, majoring in any STEM field astronomy is so valuable to how we understand our world and how we understand our universe. And I think everyone should get that platform and once you get that foundation at some point, so I would recommend that
Venkat Raman 10:24
Now, why did you go to Central State? How'd you pick that?
Yes. So um, it's actually kind of funny. So I am a mama's girl. So, um, well, let me back up a little bit. Coming out of high school, I actually didn't know what I was going to major in or what I was going to do. The junior year in my high school, I wanted to go into the military, I had an interest in serving our country, I really wanted to reap the benefits of the military, such as just getting getting those leadership skills, the discipline, I love discipline, I love regimen. And so I think that I thought the military will be a great fit for me. However, I went to the military kind of health check system. And they said that my eyesight was horrible. I knew that going in, but I thought it could be fixed I, I get that from my dad. So that's kind of where that came from. So once that kind of didn't work out, and I didn't really know what I was going to do next, I started looking at schools in my area, because I knew I didn't want to go too far away from home for college, I was willing to do that for the military, because I was still being in a very secure environment. But I feel like college, it's you're very much on your own. But it's also not as secure as the military would have been. And so I was a bit afraid I'm not gonna lie. So I just looked at schools that were closer to home. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. And so I applied to Central State, right, right state, fifth, which is in Nashville, I applied to Kentucky state's Tennessee State. So I applied to schools that were maybe a little farther away, but not too too far away. And so I learned with Central State Central State is and we're before, it's about an hour away from home. It's an HBCU. That was one of my, that was one of my priorities. To be honest, I really didn't want to go historically, black college, just I wanted to get that experience, I wanted to be a part of that community. And then, um, yeah, after I kind of narrowed down my options, Central States stuck out to me because I knew that I wanted to go somewhere in space science, but also knew that having an engineering background can help me with that, too, especially environmental, learning about our planet in a way where we can find ways to fix the planet, find ways to find solutions that will sustain themselves, not just be temporary fixes. And that really stood out to me as well. So that's why I chose Central State. It's one of the only schools in this region right now that has an environmental engineering, undergraduate degree. So that's what kind of stuck out to me as well. And I came to the campus, it's beautiful. The people are really nice. I just love the energy. And so yeah, it was kind of a win win. But I think for graduate school, I'm ready to take that leap of faith and kind of move, move out of my comfort zone a little bit and start exploring the world a little bit more. So.
Venkat Raman 13:22
Tell us a little bit about the transition to college. How was that?
Yes. So Wow. You guys are probably thinking I'm the biggest baby of the world. But no, it was a big transition for me just because my family is just my everything. And I think yes, I was only an hour away from them. But I still wanted to get that independence that college allowed you to gain. And so once I got into college, I was like, okay, Kayla, we're not going to be going home every weekend, which I still do. That didn't work out. But freshman year, I didn't have a car. So that really didn't. I really couldn't go home every weekend. And so that transition from being at home every night and my mom cooking every night, you know my dad helping me with things every night became Kayla, you cook for yourself, Kayla, you make sure that you do this, you do that your mom's not here to tell you. I think that that you hear everyone say that but I think you won't really fully grasp that until you're in that situation. And so I think for me, it was more so understanding the the switch the reality of situation, and understanding that I am in charge of me now my mom's not gonna tell me when to go to sleep anymore. I need to be in charge of that. I need to understand why I'm here. And what are the habits the healthy habits if I can build at this point in time to get me where I want to be? And so I think with that mindset going into college that really helped me so I would say for my overall advice for high schoolers. Make sure that you have a sound a sound mindset for yourself going in, because there's gonna be a lot of distractions. Day one I was faced with a lot nothing's going on I'd never seen before it's college. And so understanding why you're why you're there understanding why you're, why you're pursuing the degree that you're pursuing. What do you want to get out of college? I think that really helped me transition. And so it was smooth for me. But I can't speak for everyone. So it really depends on how you are coming out of high school and what your goals and dreams and aspirations are for the future.
Venkat Raman 15:28
What did you think of the academics? Moving, transitioning?
Yes. So actually, I think my work ethic got stronger in college, I feel like that can be, you know, flip flop for some people. But I had maybe a 3.8 coming out of high school. Now I have a 4.0. And I think I think for me, once I got that first straight A's, I was like, okay, Kayla. I like the way that that looks. I like the way that that looks. But I also know that this will take me much farther than I can even see at this point in time. And so I'm not saying that grades are everything because they're not. However, academics will shift dramatically, you have to understand that when you when you go into a college classroom, they're not going to tell you to do your homework, they're not going to tell you to show up to class, they're not going to tell you to turn this assignment, you know what I mean, they're just gonna, they're gonna follow your lead, if you turn stuff in, and you get good grades, that's great. If you don't, they're still gonna grade it, they'll just give you zeros and keep going on. You know, so it's, it's a very much understanding your own personal work ethic. And I think for me, um, you know, seeing other people around me and seeing things that maybe I want to adopt that or maybe I don't want to adopt that understanding, kind of absorbing your environment the way the best way that you can, I think that helped me transition academically. And so classes are tremendously harder. They are tremendously more rigorous. However, I just take it one thing at a time. And that has worked for me for the past almost four years. And hopefully that little advice will help high schoolers, and even other undergrads, my peers. And so yeah, I think that's how that helped me just kind of understanding my personal work ethic and my my strengths and weaknesses and kind of adjusting to fit the situation.
Venkat Raman 17:21
What did you think of your classmates?
My classmates? Yes, they're amazing. I think for me, personally, I didn't understand my place in academia coming into college, I didn't really understand the strength the academia had, I didn't understand what all that meant, until I got into research. And so I'm not gonna lie, I was kind of just floating along freshman year, just kind of figuring out my way. And my classmates, even upper class and just looking at them and seeing how they were applying to graduate school. They were applying to med school and, and all these different things. I was like, I was like, I want to be like that. And so I think I think when you're looking at people that are a little bit older than you doing the things that you see yourself doing in two or three years, that's really what inspired me to, you know, keep pushing with academia. And so my classmates inspire me every day, I am so just enthralled and just, I'm just amazed by the perseverance and dedication. People have to academia for act to academia to better themselves, better their families, better the world. And so all of my classmates, I think we're all going to go very far in life. And I think it's very important to be that sounding board and that inspiration for other people. So yeah, I absolutely love it.
Venkat Raman 18:42
Tell us how you got into undergraduate research?
Yes. So that's actually another funny story. So it was during COVID. It was my sophomore spring semester. So we were still heavily in lockdown. And I still wanted to get some sort of internship experience, I knew that I didn't really want to take classes because they weren't really offering the classes that I needed since I was transitioning from a underclass into an upperclassman a lot of those required labs. And I knew that we were going to go back into person fall semester.
And so I don't really want to I can't really take classes right now. And good thing, because research really changed my mind about classes over the summer.
Just before I get into my experience, if you are wondering if you do classes or research, if you are planning to go to graduate school, I would definitely get one summer good solid research. And just because I make your application stand out that much more. It makes you it makes you seem really passionate about research. And I think that that's just a really good bonus to your application. And he was a person. He was a person that a candidate.
But anyway, yeah, so it was my sophomore year, spring semester and my academic advisor, he reached out to me and he said, Hey, you're doing really well. Do you know who Caltech is?
And I was like, No, did a Quick Google search. And I was like, Oh, okay. Yes, I do know who Caltech is. Now. Why do you ask?
Well, there's a professor there that is looking for a student and environmental engineering and environmental policy, environmental studies, something along those lines.
And I recommended you and I said, Wow!
So at this point, I had no idea what I was gonna do for research, I had no idea what type of research I wanted to do. And I really didn't know my academic advisor that well, because I've only seen him for a solid semester. So it's like, I literally didn't even know who he was as a person quite yet. And that's very abnormal, being a sophomore, because you're supposed to be you know, but it was COVID.
So the fact that he still saw me, even though we didn't really communicate that it was just amazing. Another reason why I love being here, and I love being around people that really want to see people succeed and win.
But yeah, so after that happened, I got on a Zoom meeting with my other advisor. And he said, Yes, I'm gonna introduce you to my old grad school pi. And you're gonna work in his group.
And I was like, okay, so all this was just going on very fast. And I got exposed to the research, and I fell in love. I don't know if you let me go into that kind of work. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Yeah. So we all had a meeting that night, actually, two years ago. Yeah, pretty much two years ago. It'll be in March.
And it's we're basically using a coding model, a computational model to analyze atmospheric chemistry on Mars. And I had no idea how to code. I had no idea what a chemical, photochemical model was, I had no idea what any of these words were. And I was like, Are you sure you want me to participate like, what I'm doing. But my, the graduate students, the professors, my academic advisors, they just helped me through the whole way. And they taught me literally everything that I know.
And I absolutely will not change my experience for the world. I learned so much. Even though I was working with them for a year before I even got to meet them in person, you know what I mean? So it was, I was quite worried about how that transition would go and how the communication will go. I will come off as a person and a student and I just tried to do my best work ethic wise, and it all paid off.
So I love my research. I love learning about the universe in the cosmos, and Mars is just absolutely amazing. I don't, I can't talk about enough. So I don't want to bore everyone.
But Mars I really do think is a place that we can learn so much about, but it can also just so much about our planet Earth. And I think that's why it's just such a blessing and a privilege and honor to be able to work on things such as that nature, because it's not just about Earth or just about Mars. It's about the whole universe and how we all fit within it.
So I've gotten exposed to planetary science, astrobiology, photochemistry, literally, all over the all over the spectrum of Geosciences. And I absolutely love it. Um, and so yeah, just basically mentors looking out for me, that's how I got my internship mentors, believing in me, a mentor seeing things in me that I didn't quite see in myself yet. And that's pretty much how I got to where I am today.
Venkat Raman 23:28
So what are some noteworthy things from the research that you did? Are you still continuing on that? Or is that done?
Yeah, so So, um, I would say some big aspects of the actual research itself, I would say that our photochemical model has grown tremendously since I have been a part of it, which is amazing. For the entire group that's involved, I was able to add so many photochemical reactions to it, I was able to add so many species to it, and were able to get more out of it, just from just Mars was actually adapted to Venus before I got my hands on it.
Now I adapted over to Mars. And so that was really cool transition to be able to learn how to change the models parameters from Venus to Mars. We even though we haven't even been to Venus, Venus and Mars, I just think that it's really cool. Yes, we have rovers. Yes, we have orbiters, but people have not been there.
And I think that's really cool how we can analyze other planets in our solar system and beyond our solar system, even though we haven't physically been there.
And so yeah, I think that's the biggest thing for me is just being able to work on datasets that no one has truly seen in person. I think that is amazing. And I think it's amazing how we can correlate it to a bunch of different other scientific principles like chemistry, biology, geology. I just love the whole melting pot that planetary science provides.
Venkat Raman 24:55
Let's talk a little bit about Goldwater Scholarship. When did that happen?
You Yes. So I got introduced to the Goldwater Scholarship in November of 2021. And my, my, my grad student who is my co advisor, she emails me and she says, Hey, I, you probably have heard of this, but have you applied yet? And I said, I have no idea what the Goldwater Scholarship is. So again, I looked it up and I was like, again, are you sure you want me to apply for this? Like, are you totally positive? And she was like, Kayla, go for it. So I applied, I got all my recommendation letters, the rec, the things that people say about me and my recommendation letters I didn't even know I possessed. And that's one thing that recommendation letters are just people are watching you. People are understanding who you are as a person, even though you don't see certain things within yourself. So there were things in there that I'm like, I remember when that happened. But I didn't think I stood out in that way. And they saw that in me. And so I think it's just it's amazing what professors and other advisors and graduate students that are watching you can see in you. And I think that's a big reason why I was awarded, it was because they spoke so highly of me. But I also think that I my passion for research and understanding the versatility that I can add to the field of planetary science in the geosciences, I found that also stuck stuck out as well. And so I got introduced to it, and I applied and I just put my best foot forward. And by the grace of God, I won. And I think that it's so amazing to be surrounded by so many other talented, inspirational, amazing Goldwater scholars that want to change the world in ways that I've never even heard of before. I've learned so much being in the Goldwater scholar Council in the past year. And it's been amazing to just bounce ideas off of other scholars to understand things from other scholars from completely different disciplines, you know. So that's kind of how I got in, into the scholarship. And I think for me, I was the first one to be awarded from my institution, the first one ever, and that was a great accomplishment. That was a great accomplishment for me personally. But I often tell people, when they ask me about it, I say I didn't win this for Kayla, I want this for us. I didn't want this for me, I want this for we. And I think this award represents so much more than a scholarship or prestigious. It represents the perseverance, dedication of people, I put their time into me. And I put my time into something else to further my education, further my passions within academia, to make to make a positive change. And so I just don't want to give back and have mentors through the Goldwater scholar Council diversity inclusion committee. I've had mentors through them, it's been amazing to just help students that are just like me, but help them accomplish their goals. I know how, you know, it's a little intimidating to have a mentor that's, you know, double your age, and you can't really connect with them on a personal level. And I think that having a peer mentor is very, very important because I'm only a couple years older, maybe, but at the same time, we're still we're still going through the same things maybe. But same time. I think that as you get awards and accolades along the way, you have to pay it forward, you have to pay it forward to the people that are going to continue that legacy. And so yeah, winning the Goldwater scholar, I mean, win the Goldwater Scholarship has been amazing. And it's a it's an honor to be a part of that that community. And I can't wait to see what else we do in the future.
Venkat Raman 28:37
Actually, there are two questions I want to ask you first about the Goldwater Scholarship itself.
Now. You know, you mentioned the Goldwater Council, what I know that you're, you know, you're very passionate about inclusion, getting more people involved. What are you doing about it? I mean, are you actively seeking out students? How are you doing that?
Yes. So I was officially named, like the Goldwater HBCU outreach. I'm on that kind of that group. And so since I go to an HBCU, I was I was looking at the stats and I was okay, I want to see more HBCU students winning, I want to see more HBCUs even given the opportunity of knowing what the Goldwater Scholarship is. I didn't know what it was. And I learned from my advisor, I want more students to learn from their academic advisors. I want more students learn from their friends and their friends and their friends. I want to make Goldwater a household name and the HBCU and in the communities of underserved students, and so I just came up with an idea to you know, kind of go about that. And so I went to a conference back in September, it was the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Institute, and it was just all HBCU students They were all, you know, interviewing for jobs, or there were hundreds of companies there. And they were all just looking for talented students. And that's where you can find them. It's HBCU conferences like that. And I ran it past the other Goldwater diversity inclusion committee members, I said, Hey, why don't I make some business cards, and I can just pass them out at the conference. I mean, I know that it's, you know, I know that it's small, but it's something. And so I even went into I got some business cards, I handed them out the conference. And even the number of mentees that signed up went up. And I just thought that was amazing. I also, you know, we email a lot of campus representatives of HBCUs. Schools, we do a lot of things I can get the Goldwater foundation name and these HBCU institutions, from Asheville Goldwater scholars, and I think just sharing my testimony through this podcast through other things that I've done. I think that that will continue to flourish for years and years and years to come. And so doing my part, I'm only one person, but I can I will do anything to help the next generation of students come through and succeed and thrive. And so we've done many things that just required to diversity inclusion, including the mentor mentee partnership, that's a that's a huge part of diversity inclusion committee. We want to match Goldwater scholars with underserved under underrepresented communities, and make sure that they have the guidance for even just applying for internships or applying for other scholarships, we're applying to graduate school, we want to have that have that guidance and leadership for those students. And so that's a really big part of it. And I think that we will just continue, I'll continue to just do little things I can hear in there. And even if I get one person to sign up, that's more than there was yesterday, you know? Yeah, I think that's what it's all about. I think if you're pitching a little bit, it'll get done. So
Venkat Raman 31:55
No, that's just wonderful. And really congratulate you on sort of embarking on this. It's, it's a wonderful mission. So
Kayla S 32:04
Thank you so much.
Venkat Raman 32:09
Okay, so let me ask you another question. Now, you've been doing research for the last couple of years now? How is it making a difference to you? What kind of impact is that activity having on you?
Yes. So like I said, Before, I didn't even know research was a career, I didn't know you could make a living doing research, I thought it was just a hobby people had never once I got into it, I'm like, Oh, this really is a career and I'm just spending I'm spending 1012 hours a week on it, let alone 40-60 hours that many people are in the lab. And so I really came this is my own personal mission mission statement for myself, I always say to myself, research is not about asking the perfect questions. It's about asking questions at all. And I think every little question that you have, can be answered it can be dug into it can be unfolded layer by layer. And I think that if that research question helps one person, that's a success. And so my research personally, I think the understanding of our planets in our in our solar system, will not only make us more humble on Earth, but it will make us understand our place in the universe, and where life is actually thriving. I've learned so many things about how life emerges, how life thrives how life dies. Why is Mars changing so drastically? Could that happen to Earth? There's so many things that just flow through my head, and I wasn't even I didn't even know how to ask a scientific question before two years ago. Now I'm like, Hey, I'm emailing my professors like, Hey, I'm gonna my advice is I'm saying, Hey, I have this question. Do you think we could look into this? And I'm like, you're asking questions I graduate school students ask, and I'm like, I guess this is meant for me. I taught me a big impact on me that way. I'm able to give back I actually volunteer through a couple programs seeing coders is in California and tech core is in Dayton, Ohio. And they basically look at under whenever presented students that are in elementary school, and they want to expand them to more STEM fields. And so it seemed coders I actually tutored fourth and fifth graders in math. And I asked him like, hey, what research are you doing? And I would tell it to them and their eyes would just light up. I love that. For, of course I am. I'm going into elementary schools, middle schools, helping them understand programming, robotics, digital, 3d printing, digital printing, all those things. I'm helping them understand how STEM can contribute to the world. And I kind of throw in how my research is contributing to that I do a lot of programming. And so I say, yeah, we can analyze Mars by using programming tools and all just comes full circle. And so I'm learning so much more, not just about planetary science and Mars, but also what that means for humanity. And I think that that's just one of the the joys about what I'm able to research on daily basis. And I'm just so lucky. So
Venkat Raman 35:06
So let's sort of come back to the campus. Oh, before we do that, now is all this work you did with Caltech? Was that the Caltech WAVE fellowship or WAVE fellow? Is that the same thing? Or is it different?
Yes. So Caltech actually has multiple Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship types. And so one surf and one is way to try to keep like the theme of surfing and, of course, they have a lot of other with JPL Jet Propulsion Laboratory, other things of that nature. And so my first summer I was a part of surf. And my second summer I was a part of waves and waves that looks at underrepresented students. And I looked at, you know, a more diverse group of students coming from different backgrounds. And so I was a part of that my second year, but I'm also a part of another fellowship over the school year as well. And so I'm able to do it year round, not just through the summer, but again, Cal Tech wave, Cal Tech serve the whole program, student faculty programs, that Cal Tech is absolutely amazing. They helped me through everything as far as making sure that I'm getting my research on time, making sure I'm doing my PowerPoints correctly, making sure I'm making posters that are good. They're just amazing. And so yeah, I think that, again, summer programs are amazing. If you're able to do it, I would highly recommend.
Venkat Raman 36:30
So now coming to the campus now, are you do you have time for campus activities? Are you involved in any local organizations and clubs?
Yes, so like I said, I do tech core with the little kiddos in middle school. Also, the president of the Alpha Kappa Mu Honors society, Kappa Tau chapter Central State, the president of Honor Society is absolutely amazing. It's it's a, it's an honor to be able to lead such high achieving academics. And I think that for me personally, it has helped me understand the different aspects of people as it relates to academia. So we're more we're more than just an honor society, we talk more we talk more than just school, we talk about community service outreach. So we're going to be doing a lot of that this semester. We're talking a lot about like study techniques. We talk a lot about applications to graduate school and law school and med school. And so I've loved that. I am also the parliamentarian for the National Society of Black Engineers, or Nesby. It's a organization that focuses on enriching black engineers. And so we basically do a lot of like professional headshots, professional development, we're going to the conference, and I think it's March, we are talking about engineering thing, just all those things and how Black Engineers influence society. I love that group so much. Um, I'm also a part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That's another one I'm very, very big on, I'm very big on mental health. And so I'm just a member of that one. But even being a member, I get so many insights about mental health, how to take care of myself, oftentimes, that I've heard in, you know, higher undergraduate going into grad school going into postdoc, and faculty that we do more research and more work and don't really take care of ourselves mentally. And so I think that being a part of that group has really showed me how important mental health is, how important it is to give back to the community in ways that help your mental health, not just for work. And so yeah, I love that group as well. Those are just a couple that I'm a part of. And it's absolutely amazing to be a part of all of them. And there's so many diverse and unique people in every single one of them. So it's a lot going on, but it's definitely worth it. And I think that once you get into college high schoolers, once you get into college, I know a lot of people say get into as many clubs as you can don't overload yourself. I waited it out until I could see where I where I could actually see myself. I knew I would thrive. And so I personally say if you want to join clubs to make friends, that's one thing. But if you want to join clubs to get something out of it for yourself, learn yourself a little bit first learn about what makes you tick. And I think once you do that, it'll just fall into place.
Venkat Raman 39:30
I wanted to ask you about your major. You said you're studying Environmental Engineering.
Broadly now, you did say that when you came to college, or when you were getting ready, you didn't quite know what you wanted to study. You didn't know what major you wanted to study.
So tell us a little bit about how that evolved. I know all the things that went on up to this point. But if you can reflect on how you kind of arrived at that, that will be are interesting and worthwhile.
Yes. So I was looking at the list of majors and I knew I wanted to go somewhere instead because I wanted to say in the, in the sciency realm, and they did not have a astronomy or astrophysics program. And I said, Okay, the next best thing is environmental engineering. However, I'm getting a more well rounded education, getting an engineering background. And so I'm learning how to efficiently build and efficiently design things that will help our world but also learn the theory behind it. And so for example, I'm in an air quality class right now. I love air quality, I love water quality. So through my air quality class, we're learning about like, you know, the amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide that is in the air. And that directly contributes to things like climate change, which directly contributes to things as atmospheric chemistry and how chemistry in the atmosphere works. And so it's all related. And I think for me, I think I'm getting a physics a math and engineering a Science Foundation, and that'll make me more versatile once I get to graduate school. And, um, yeah, I think that, you know, if we were ever get to Mars, and we were able to inhabit Mars, I could contribute to the ways that we, you know, utilize the water once we get there, you know, I just, I'm just throwing it out there. But I'm just saying, Yeah, environmental engineering is so versatile, it's helped me tremendously. And so, um, I think picking a major was something intentional, it really was, I didn't want to have to change my major 15 different times to get it right, even though there's nothing wrong with that. But I still didn't want to be be so scrambled. So I did take some time to sit there and be like, hey, what do I know will make me happy. And even though it's not exactly what I see myself doing full time, in my future, I will take so many valuable lessons and knowledge from this degree and apply it to my future work. And so I think I was very intentional with that. And my train of thought.
Venkat Raman 42:07
You know, you've done a lot in the last almost four years you you know, you've had wonderful experiences. You're working with kids at different levels in schools. What would your advice be to high schoolers out there who are thinking about college? What, what are some key things they ought to keep in mind?
Yes, I would say I'll give you three.
One of them is to know you. And I will say that college will test you, it will try to pull you in 50 different directions, but never move away from your morals, your faith, what you stand upon. Because if you have that nobody can make you do anything that you don't want to do. Nobody can make you seem like you're someone that you're not. I think that that's a very big issue. When coming to college, you want to find yourself. And I would say just explore with caution. I would say that for sure.
Number two is Communicate, communicate your family, any relationships that you want to let you want to maintain your professors communicate with everyone because I think going from you know, whenever you start undergrads where you finish, typically around 1820 20 to 23 years old, those are very pivotal transition points in your life, you're going through so much. You're you're transitioning from a teenager to a young adult. And I think so much goes on in that time, so many growth spurts go on in that time. And so, I think just understand that communication is key. When you're not feeling well say that when you're feeling great says that when you're struggling say that, you know, I think that that helped me a lot.
And number three, just chase your dreams. I would say never give up on what you want to do. Yes, I wanted to go into space sciences. And here I am doing research and space sciences. I think that if you keep true to your dreams and aspirations and your goals, you will be good for us your life. And I think that when you surround your people that support your goals support your aspirations, that's the key. So that's what I would give for high schoolers going into college.
Venkat Raman 44:18
Okay, so Kayla, we're gonna start winding down here. Before we do that, I was wondering if you had any interesting memory or story or anecdote that you want to share about your experience so far?
Yes, um, truthfully, I now it's not because of the prestige or anything like that just truly the Goldwater community. I've never met any of these people in person. But like, whenever I have a question, or whenever I have something I need to say, or I have an idea, they're always there to hear me out. I think for me, that was a huge deal because I I, I was kind of struggling where I fit in what you know what kind of things I was going to do. And I think the Goldwater scholar community came at a perfect time for me. And I think that was just a huge, huge thing on for undergrad and just not only for my career, but for personally as well. Another one of my undergrad memories, I think, Hmm, truthfully, I think learning how to live by myself. I think that that was a big transition, because I come from a pretty big family, and used to people always being around always being loud and laughing. And I'm used to that. But I had to learn how to be my own company sometimes. And I think for me, that was huge, kind of understanding that in undergrad and I think now going into the rest of my life, I won't need a constant group of people to be around, and I think have been your own company, being your own friend first is very crucial to life. Um, yeah, I will say those two are the main things that stood out to me in undergrad. And I think that that's what I will take with me throughout the rest of my career in my life and in my relationships. And I think that the principles I learned in undergrad just to learn myself, build connections with many different faculty and staff that's been huge. building connections with so many people that you wouldn't even know if you need them in 100 years, and it's a rainy day, and you can call on them and they'll answer you know what I mean, you never know when people are going to be there for you. So I think that is, you know, being my authentic self. But finding my authentic self was huge for me and undergrad.
Venkat Raman 46:37
It's fantastic. So, here, you're an amazing person. And thank you for sharing your experiences and being so generous with your stories. I will probably want to catch up with you again very soon. But for right now, take care. Be safe. Thank you so much.
Kayla S 46:57
Thank you so much. Bye bye.
Venkat Raman 46:58
Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Kayla Smith on her amazing undergraduate journey.
Boundless energy, passion to learn new things combined with hard work!
She jumped in research in a big way with the CalTech opportunity which opened new frontiers for her.
She won the Goldwater Scholarship and channeled that achievement into inspire and guide youngsters in underrepresented groups to science.
I hope you find Kayla’s story inspiring, and push yourself to greater heights and apply your talents to lift others as well.
For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [firstname.lastname@example.org].
Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.
Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].
Till we meet again, take care and be safe.