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From Sand Castles to STEM: Chloë Sharratt

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

At a young age, I had no idea what I wanted to do in terms of a career. I would fixate on a particular occupation for a few months or so, and whatever I was interested in reflected the people and things I was closest to at the time. When I was in preschool, I wanted to be a princess, and would even sit like one during carpet time. In kindergarten, I thought being a teacher would be perfect for me. When I began reading the Harry Potter series, I dreamed of being a bestselling author. One thing that I never really considered was a career in science, other than briefly thinking about becoming a veterinarian around second grade. Neither of my parents worked in STEM, and other than my annual physical, I didn’t have much exposure to professionals working in science.

Looking back, this is surprising to me, seeing as I had developed a deep curiosity about the world around me from an early age. Growing up in the Bay Area, I was surrounded by forests, beaches, and wetland environments that I loved to explore, and I was fortunate enough to have parents who instilled a love for nature and spending time outdoors in me through hikes, beach days, and camping trips.

The first two years of my life were spent in Half Moon Bay, where we lived just blocks from the beach. I still have fond memories of scrambling down the slope to the shore with my mom and dad and watching the sunset together. When we moved further inland, trips to the beach became even more special. My mom, younger sister, and I would walk up and down the shore, looking for blue and green sea glass to stash in a beach bucket with fragments of sand dollars and shells. The smoothness of the glass fascinated me, and my sister and I would compete to see who could find the biggest piece. If we were lucky enough to find a second where our parents weren’t watching, we could sneak some into our pockets to take home as souvenirs. Otherwise, we would dramatically scatter our treasures in the tangled seaweed, returning them to their homes. Of course, we knew it was the right thing to do, but it was still hard to part with our finds. From time to time, we would come across skeletons of small crabs that seagulls had snacked on. I was too squeamish to hold them in my hands, but my mom and sister would lay them flat in their palms. Sometimes the skeletons were in near-perfect condition, other times we would find only part of a leg. Still, it was exciting to see the pincers and see how far the crab’s legs could bend. Examining these washed-up shells led me to wonder about their occupants -- the way they had moved, how they had lived.

Beyond the beach, I was consistently exposed to nature, even in just spending time with my dad in our front yard. When I was really young, I would help water the plants, bombarding him with questions the entire time. Why were we watering some plants more than others? Why did the grass get sprinklers and the other plants didn’t? Why are we pulling these little plants out of the ground? My dad, glad that I shared his interest in gardening, was happy to oblige. Some plants are more thirsty, he would say. The grass needs to drink every day, the other plants didn’t need to drink so often. Some plants are our friends, and other plants hurt our friends. You’ll learn more about it when you have a science class at school. For the time being, I was satisfied with his answers, but I couldn’t wait to be old enough to take a dedicated science class and learn more.

As I learned about and experienced more of what nature had to offer, I became increasingly curious about the world around me. My parents took my sisters and I on outdoor trips, whether that meant short hikes in the local woods, camping, and bike rides along the bay. I marveled at the height of the redwood trees, wandered beaches with pebbles instead of sand, and curled my nose at the smell of mud at low tide.

It wasn’t until middle school that I started thinking about becoming a biologist or environmental scientist. My sixth and seventh grade science classes were dedicated to learning about erosion, tectonic plates, xylem and phloem, and different classes of animals. So many of the questions I’d wondered about were being answered, piece by piece. By then I had new, bigger questions, and learning all these answers only made me want to learn more. I jumped at the chance to enroll in IB Biology in high school, and soon my friends and family were constantly hearing explanations of environmental systems and plant biology. While the class was probably one of the most challenging that I have taken, it thrilled me to master a concept and fully understand how it related to the world around me.

I still feel that way as I learn new things in my biology lectures at SDSU, and it’s what reminds me that I’m on the right track. When I joined WSS this semester, I was introduced to a whole new world of opportunities in STEM. The guest speakers at meetings and speaker panels have inspired me so much and opened my eyes to new career paths consider. WSS has helped me go beyond the knowledge I have gained from my major coursework in preparing me for a future in STEM by increasing my knowledge of the industry. Toward the end of a busy week of coursework, it is deeply reassuring to find myself in a (Zoom) meeting full of highly driven and confident women who are on a similar journey as STEM students. The experiences shared at these meetings have helped me move in the direction of opportunities that will open doors to an impactful and satisfying carreer. Just like my elementary school self, I don’t have a totally clear vision of what I plan on doing after graduation, but the resources I have explored through WSS have certainly helped narrow my focus. I’m sure all of us can say that the little girls we used to be would be so proud of us for coming this far and continuing to work toward our dreams.

- Chloe

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