Linking Up with Super Connector Jasmin Hume

The audience of 70 middle-schoolers and teachers from IS 59 and JHS 189 in Queens, New York, listened as Jasmin Hume shared a little-known fact about her background: She had been a cheerleader during her undergraduate years at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Motioning to the screen behind her where a photo from her cheerleading days could be seen, the doctoral candidate in materials chemistry at Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) told the crowd she hoped her past would “break any of the stereotypes you have of either engineers, scientists, or cheerleaders.”

Earlier the students had nodded and giggled when Hume asked if bespectacled and bookish was how they imagined scientists. Her question led off the talk she gave as a presenter at the annual Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s Youth Leadership Conference presented by Time Warner Cable (TWC) last month. The event took place aboard the USS Intrepid, home of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and a location unlike the sterile labs more typically associated with scientists.

The setting suited Hume’s ongoing effort to broaden the general public’s ideas about scientists. “They have stereotypes about scientists because they don’t interact with them often enough,” she said after her presentation. “And scientists won’t come out of wherever they’re working enough.”

Taking it to the Classrooms and Beyond

Hume is unlike her colleagues that way: When she’s not working on her own research at NYU-Poly, the busy student is at a Bedford-Stuyvesant middle school in Brooklyn teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects as a graduate fellow of the National Science Foundation (NSF) or in Manhattan’s Upper West Side tutoring high school students. She wrote about both experiences in her application to TWC’s Super Connector Search last fall, when the company asked its customers to share how they were connecting people in their communities to the wonders of the STEM disciplines.

Karen LaCava, Manager of Community Affairs at Time Warner Cable, explained the company’s initiative as an investment in the future. “Connect a Million Minds helps today’s students get more interested in fields that hold the jobs of tomorrow. Technology companies like Time Warner Cable will always be in need of bright minds to grow our business. We look forward to the day when these students enter the workforce and can help us invent the latest technologies in TV, Internet and telecommunications services.”

Hume was selected as a finalist, LaCava said, because “she represents what we’re looking for in a Super Connector and a STEM mentor at its best.” 

National Pride Kicks In

Hume found out about Connect a Million Minds after seeing a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about it in 2009. She’d just returned to the States after spending three years working at a lab in Italy and furthering her education in Sweden where she was born, and she was about to enroll at NYU-Poly where, says Hume, “Americans are a minority, a big minority.” 

Those experiences made her sensitive to the PSA’s claims about America’s world rankings in STEM (35th in science and 29th in math). “We’re supposed to be this big, powerful country,” said Hume, “[but] to be 35th in the world is pretty upsetting.”

Concerned about the nation’s future, Hume now works with kids to bolster STEM knowledge among youth. “They’re still finding out about the world,” said Hume, “and they’re still choosing what career path they might want to have.” Her efforts were recently on display at the annual meeting the NSF holds for participants of its graduate teaching fellow program. Out of 125 applicants, Hume was one of 32 selected to present about their research. 

Next Hume will serve as a guest judge during TWC’s Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…, a contest in which kids ages 10-15 submit ideas they consider to be significant innovations. The winner, judged by Hume, of the Black Eyed Peas, Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST, and Mark Payne, president of Farenheit 212, will have their innovation realized by Payne’s company.