June 14, 2017

Building a Foundation Through STEM

Gregory Damas, TGR LL Cristo Rey

For the past four years, the TGR Learning Lab satellite at Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School has served as a retreat from the drugs and crime that plagued Gregory Damas’ neighborhood. With plans to attend Villanova University in the fall, Gregory’s resilience and drive stand as an example for others dealing with similar obstacles. Read on to learn how Gregory’s experience with STEM helped build his foundation and has given him the tools necessary to pursue his goals and dreams.

The foundations that a person has is not always obvious at first. As people mature and begin to contemplate life from different perspectives, only then will that foundation grow clearer. In order for me to reach that deep level of understanding, I needed to look past the negative aspects of my neighborhood. The selling of drugs was definitely a prominent feature in my community. All too often there were innocent people who became brutally victimized or killed, over being in the wrong place or engaging in an idiotic confrontation. With those “opportunities” on the horizon, I made it a priority as I transitioned to high school to try and resist the dangers around me. Speaking only when spoken to and keeping my head down, were concepts that I embodied. Because of these limitations that I set for myself out of fear, my confidence took a plunge.

With a constant pressure to be part of this environment, I relished the opportunity that the arrival of high school would provide. I did not have to be someone else; it was a chance for me to build a solid structural foundation, piece by piece. I looked for any excuse to stay longer at school. Whether it was chatting with students and teachers or walking through each hallway on every floor, the less time I had to spend in the neighborhood the better. So when my science teacher, Mr. Robert Fest announced an opportunity for students to be a part of the TGR Learning Lab afterschool STEM Program, I jumped at the chance. Soon thereafter I had immersed myself into an environment much more different than the one I was so use to. Instead of dealing with drugs and constant violence, my new STEM classes introduced me to shark dissections and wearable technology projects. Rather than speaking minimally and lacking confidence, that hour-long club after school gave me a chance to get away from my problems and feel like a young scientist.

Though there are many words to describe this space, the one word that always comes to mind is community. It is this community that allowed students and staff members to believe and trust one another, which paved the way for cool experiments. It is this community that gave me an opportunity to attend the TGR Learning Lab’s High School Summer Academy in Anaheim, California for five days. There, I had the chance to learn about biotechnology which combines life science, engineering and technology through the lens of a DNA journal.

Gregory Damas_STEM_CristoRey

Even with all this personal development, the mindset of our STEM club has always been to lift the next wave of leaders up as we climb the ladder of success. Firmly believing this, our STEM coordinators, Mrs. Porter and Mrs. Hamilton, implemented a model for STEM in which a group of a few selected seniors act as student-teachers in 6th – 10th grade through the process of each experiment, as well as provide some background knowledge on it. It grows quite hectic as the students are constantly having fun with their peers through each experiment that they are learning. I provide these young aspiring scientists the tools and knowledge they need in order to succeed, as many of them possess a great passion and interest for the scientific world. We – as seniors – try to motivate our young community members to follow their dreams of being astronauts, surgeons, biologists and more.

My foundation is an accumulation of all my experiences through the TGR Learning Lab STEM after-school program. This program showed me I could be more than the place I grew up and that there is no age requirement to be a mentor to others. STEM also gave me the confidence I now have, which is essential to my success. These events provided a gateway for me to discover financial consultancy, a career which will hopefully give me a chance to advise people on how to better manage their assets long term.

Though these are my goals for now, such dreams may change. The feeling of failure is scary, but I now have experiences to lean on when I am faced with inevitable challenges. I now have the confidence to continue building my foundation and forming it into the strongest structure it can be.

Redefining what it means to be a champion.