Maya Robinson, Winner: Best High School STEM

Maya Robinson is a senior at Gann Academy in Waltham, Massachusetts. She loves exploring interesting mathematical concepts and is developing a budding interest in coding. She has attended the Ross Mathematics Program and PROMYS over the past two summers, and she is hoping to continue deepening her understanding and appreciation of number theory this summer. Besides math, Maya enjoys being involved in theatre at Gann, whether it be acting in productions, being a House Manager, attending drama club meetings, or taking theatre classes. Every week, she looks forward to leading toddler services at her synagogue, where she feels a personal connection to the children and parents who come to pray.

This semester, Maya is taking a class on the Supreme Court, where her research for the We the Future Contest has helped her greatly. Her interest in U.S. history is relatively new, but it is growing quickly, and she cannot wait to see where this opportunity will take her!

Maya Describes Her Winning STEM Project: 

“What does an average high schooler know about the US Constitution? In order to start to answer that question, I coded an online quiz (https://mayarobinson613.wixsite.com/constitution/quizzes; click on “General Constitution Quiz”) about the Constitution which I shared with peers.

It turns out that coding a quiz was not quite as straightforward as I imagined that it would be. Though such quizzes may look simple on their surface, even getting my code to open a graphical window with a title and a clickable button was a huge achievement at first. I spent hours fixing problems like making a window disappear when the test-taker is done with a question so the next can pop up; disabling buttons after the user responds so that it is impossible to double-click an answer and get twice the points; and emailing results to my email inbox so that I could track scores and specific answers.

Achieving these goals required me to substantially deepen my knowledge of the computer language Python, including object-oriented programming and graphical user interface programming, as well as to find and utilize helpful code modules in books and online to solve specific problems.

When the general quiz was finished (copy of questions and answers attached; quiz code available on request), I sent it out to peers to collect data.”

Click here to read more about Maya’s winning STEM project, including tables that show data for 15 test-takers, of which 14 go to her high school.

Maya Also Created A Website: 
“Of course, quizzes test knowledge, and I wanted to teach as well. So, I also created a larger educational website composed of original explanations that I wrote, along with links to pre-existing informative resources. In doing so, I strengthened both my knowledge of and appreciation for the US Constitution and its history.
Click here to explore Maya’s winning STEM Project website

Click here for answers to Maya’s Quiz Questions!

Our Interview With Maya

Was this the first time you entered the contest?
Yes it was!

How did you hear about the contest?
I found it on a scholarship database with just barely enough time to complete a project of this scale before the deadline. After reading the description, though, I knew it would be well worth my time to apply.

What inspired your work?
I am in my school’s chapter of Girls Who Code, and we created a personality quiz last school year. When I saw this scholarship’s technology category, I felt it would be an exciting chance for me to do a similar project from an entirely different angle – using a different coding language, working with very different subject matter, and building an educational website around my coding project.

What did you learn while creating your entry?
I learned more deeply about the Constitution in order to create the quizzes, landing page, and resources page on my website, gained a deeper appreciation of the history behind it, and greatly improved my Python skills. I also found out that Thomas Jefferson did not sign the Constitution, which had previously escaped my notice.

How do you plan to spread the word this year to your peers about the importance of the U.S Constitution?
I have shared my project with many of my friends and classmates in order to both gather information about the pre-existing knowledge level of a typical student at my high school and help them fill in the gaps in their knowledge. In the future, I believe that my project is still a wonderful way to begin conversations about the Constitution outside of class.

How do your friends respond to history or talking about the Constitution?
I have been fortunate to have thoughtful friends who, regardless of their knowledge level, have been enthusiastic about discussing any of my interests. Some of my friends respond to my request to talk about the Constitution with a great deal of information and the desire to have a deep and nuanced conversation, while others are open to learning more about this important topic. I have yet to encounter a friend who has been unwilling to discuss this part of American history with me.

What do you love about U.S. History and the forming of our government?
I love the fact that our government is built to shift over time. We do not have kings, we have three branches of government, each of which has a duty to keep the others in check; Presidents have term limits; and the Constitution can be amended. With adequate power behind a cause, major changes can take place.

Which U.S. historical site would you like to visit?
Of the historical sites that I have already visited, I would most like to revisit the Freedom Trail. I live in the Boston area and visited the Freedom Trail a few times as a small child, and would love to go back both for the nostalgia and to deepen my knowledge of my home city’s history.

Out of the U.S. historical sites that I have not yet had the chance to visit, I would particularly like to visit Mount Vernon. I have learned about George Washington since elementary school as America’s legendary first President, and more recently as a nuanced person who was exceptionally important in the foundation of our country, demonstrated wonderful leadership, and still had important flaws. I believe that in seeing his home – and plantation – I would have the chance to reflect on such a deeply influential President and increase my knowledge on both George Washington and the history of the United States.

Which American historical figure is most influential/inspirational to you?
I think there are so many good answers to this question, but one that feels particularly inspirational is Harriet Tubman. Through her bravery and resourcefulness, she rescued dozens of enslaved people using the Underground Railroad: a connected group of activists and safe houses who helped enslaved people move to states where slavery was illegal.

As a Jew, I find deep meaning in Tubman’s actions. My grandmother’s family, and many others like it, only survived by escaping Nazi-controlled Poland with the help of a network of activists. When others are struggling, Jewish tradition dictates that my people have struggled, so I am obligated to help those around me who are struggling, in ways as large as what Harriet Tubman did, or as small as checking in on the people I care about.

Who is your greatest role model?
While I feel that it would be impossible to pick just one person who is the greatest of all my role models, I am particularly inspired by 19th century mathematician Sofya Kovalevskaya. At a time when women were not welcome in many parts of academia, she broke through barriers and learned an incredible amount, proving to her mentor that the reason he did not see more women in math stemmed from prejudice. Her story, and many like it, inspire me to openly live my truth as a woman who wants to learn and likely pursue STEM. In telling these stories, pursuing STEM myself, and creating an environment where other girls feel comfortable learning whatever they want, I feel I am doing my part to create a world where girls and women do not feel that their gender will prevent them from pursuing their dream career.

What in your life are you most passionate about?
This ties in to my previous answer – I am most passionate about education. Many students feel discouraged for learning certain subjects, especially math, because of teaching styles that feel inaccessible to them. I love showing these students a new way to view math as a subject that is creative and interesting and, most importantly, intuitively understandable with the right approach. When I help one of my peers begin to feel empowered to succeed in classes and experience less anxiety about previously difficult topics, I feel that I have succeeded in an important way.

How do you spend your free time?
I love spending time with friends, baking, and working on interesting math problems when I have free time.

What are your plans for the future?
My career plans are definitely not set in stone, but I am planning on attending Harvard College for the next four years, and I cannot wait to see what opportunities are in store. If I absolutely had to guess, I would say I am likely to major in math or physics and continue in academia.

If you could do one super impactful thing to help people, what would it be?
In Jewish tradition, every individual person is metaphorically viewed as their own universe. I have grown up with the wisdom that if I save one person, it is as if I saved an entire universe. As such, I have the power to shift entire universes through my actions. I believe that an action that looks small from an outside perspective can make a massive difference. When I teach those around me, I impact their universes, and I feel great power in the act of showing my peers a new way to view the subject they are learning, and ultimately the world around them.

Why is the Constitution relevant today?
The Constitution is the document that lays out the blueprint for our entire system of government. I believe that everybody should have at least a baseline understanding of their government in order to be an informed citizen. Having just taken a class on the Supreme Court, I especially think of incredibly influential Supreme Court cases that require an understanding of the Constitution, and what is constitutional, in order to grasp.

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