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Alumna Generates Interest in STEM Fields to Solve Big Global Issues

Alumna Generates Interest in STEM Fields to Solve Big Global Issues

As a manager of the Scientists Without Borders program at the New York Academy of Sciences, Chenelle Bonavito'03'99 designs innovation challenges to find solutions to global issues.

First inspired by a Convent High School global studies class, Chenelle Bonavito'03'99 has pursued a career in addressing complex societal problems through linking students in the STEM fields with experienced mentors. Chenelle manages the Imagining Tomorrow challenge through the New York Academy of Science, which invites high school students to design and develop solutions to global issues with the support of mentor scientists. Chenelle holds a bachelor's degree from Fordham University and a Master's in Global Affairs from New York University, where she focused on International Development and Humanitarian Assistance.

What do you remember most about your time at Convent?
Community and sisterhood. When I think back on the 10 years I spent on Broadway Street, my fondest memories are of a warm, welcoming environment filled with friends and laughter and strong relationships with teachers.

Can you briefly describe a few milestones in your career journey?
I studied international relations in both undergraduate and graduate school and my passion for this field comes directly from my senior global studies class. Very early on, I knew that I wanted to manage projects that create a positive change in low-resource settings. Luckily, I had the unique opportunity to work with a team at Scientists Without Borders (SWB) designing open innovation challenges. Back in 2009, this field was just becoming popular and gaining these skills led me to where I am today. After graduate school, I worked as a consultant with Development Alternatives, Inc. and met some interesting people in the challenge design space at USAID. After that, I returned to the Academy to manage the SWB program and oversaw the creation of the Imagining Tomorrow innovation challenges.

Explain the Imagining Tomorrow challenges, and how students in the program work with STEM mentors from around the world to solve pressing, global issues.
Imagining Tomorrow, a program of the Global STEM Alliance, connects students from around the world to STEM mentors with various areas of expertise, opening up problem solving to new players and creating conditions for solutions to be put forth from unusual places. Over a 60-day challenge period, students have the opportunity to interact in a virtual challenge space with New York Academy of Science-affiliated scientists who serve as mentors and guide students as they design and develop solutions to specific challenge criteria.

What advice would you give to students who want to work in the STEM fields?
There is a lot of conversation today about increasing the number of students in the STEM pipeline and the need to offer opportunities to hone that interest and encourage kids to pursue STEM careers. This is especially true among women. One of the most interesting things about the Academy is the many opportunities for scientists beyond the lab. I would encourage students with an interest in STEM to talk to people outside of the classroom and to seek opportunities that put them together with mentors who are pursuing a variety of different careers with their STEM degrees. Now, with technology and innovation driving progress in STEM, a mathematician can work to solve water issues in Africa and a physicist can advise global leaders or heads of industry. The opportunities are endless.

How can students get involved with the Global STEM Alliance and participate in an Imagining Tomorrow challenge?
There are two ways to get involved: The first is by applying for The Junior Academy. The Junior Academy is a virtual STEM program for high school students that combines mentor-led coursework in science research with open innovation challenges.

The second is Imagining Tomorrow: H2O. This innovation challenge asks students ages 13-17 from around the world to take a closer look at water issues in their community during the 60-day challenge period. Prizes include a $1,000 cash prize and more!