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The future of FAST: Bright and bigger

The future of FAST: Bright and bigger

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High school science teachers from throughout the region began approaching Cooper Galvin and the other Stanford leaders of Future Advancers of Science and Technology, or FAST, after it had been in existence for just one year.

By forming mentoring relationships with Stanford graduate students and encouraging creativity, high school students participating in FAST at Andrew P. Hill High School in East San Jose had in just one year become the all-stars of local science fairs. (The origins and impact of FAST was covered in three preceding posts).

“The teachers asked, ‘Can you please come hang out with us and our students too?” Galvin said. At the time, he had to say no. “We were still developing our curriculum, there were not enough mentors and we didn’t have a leadership team that was large enough.”

But he knew that could — and should — change. Students from across San Jose, the Bay Area, or even the United States would benefit from a program like FAST, he and his friends knew.

Slowly, FAST, began gearing up for an expansion. Attracted by word-of-mouth, the number of Stanford mentors and high school students grew. FAST’s leadership team expanded. They documented procedures and recruited high school student leaders, to help with recruitment and fundraising.

And they started working to build a network of alumni “who can speak to the students because they were in their shoes,” said Abel Ferrel, a Stanford graduate student in microbiology and immunology and a chief program officer of FAST.

This fall, FAST added a second high school, James Lick High School, also part of the East Side Union High School District in San Jose.

“It’s something we’ve always wanted — we’ve created a model that we can bring to other schools,” said FAST cofounder Andrew Kennard, a graduate student in biophysics.

FAST will change, certainly, as it expands, the leaders acknowledge.

At its core, they want to keep FAST’s organic, flexible, ground-up model, one driven by the community rather than top-down from Stanford students, FAST leaders including Katie Liu, a Stanford graduate student in chemistry and current chief operations officer of FAST, told me.

To continue to grow and to maintain its quality, FAST needs administrative help and sustaining financial support, Galvin said. Its leaders are all full-time graduate students, some of whom, including Galvin, will earn their PhDs in the relatively near future. To manage a network of 70 or so mentors, a leadership team and over 100 high school students — as well as interacting with the schools and the science fairs themselves — requires a full-time effort.

They also need to spread the word, Galvin acknowledged.

“We recognize that if we’re being true to our mission, we can’t only keep our heads down and keep doing this work,” Galvin said. “We need to let the world know that when these students get the right environment they are capable of doing amazing things.”

FAST’s success can be traced to the financial generosity of a variety of Stanford departments, programs and individuals and to, as Galvin described, “a really awesome team of dedicated people who are putting the interests of the students and the mentors involved first.”

For the future, FAST leaders are hoping to form a nonprofit, one with employees who can continue the work of the program, and continue to grow expanding to other high schools and even to other universities.

For Galvin, who dreamed with a few friends of a program that encouraged teens from all backgrounds to follow their curiosity, potentially sparking a love for science and a more inclusive scientific community, the success of FAST, and its bright outlook, is heartening:

There are a lot of things we never foresaw FAST becoming when it started, it’s up to the new leadership to decide how we are going to face the challenges ahead of us and grow… I’m really excited for the future of the FAST program.

If you would like to support FAST, contact Vivek Gupta.

This is the final installment of a four-part series on FAST.

Photo by Linda Ornelas/ East Side Union High School District

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