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The Science of How One Teacher and One Trip Inspired Three Viewpoint Alumni to Pursue a Career in STEM
The Science of How One Teacher and One Trip Inspired Three Viewpoint Alumni to Pursue a Career in STEM

“Each of us has been changed by a teacher who believed in us, inspired us, and challenged us to discover new vistas, on the frontiers of knowledge and inside ourselves,” said Head of School Mark McKee in a message about Viewpoint’s 60th anniversary.

For three of our alumni, that teacher was Craig Didden, Science Department Chair. Since 2011, he’s been bringing Viewpoint students down to the US Virgin Islands to study and document the health of the coral reefs that surround St. John.

Matt Callahan ’12 personally experienced a pivotal moment when he was chosen to join a distinguished group of students on the inaugural trip. Organized by Mr. Didden, in collaboration with Dr. Peter Edmunds from California State University Northridge, Callahan seized the opportunity to participate in coral reef monitoring and hands-on research in marine biology.

"I was super fortunate to be part of the first group from Viewpoint that went down there. It was more than just a summer trip; they provided us with invaluable insights into their methodologies,” said Callahan. “We engaged in activities like snorkeling, free diving, exploring the reefs, and conducting measurements. Additionally, we were given the opportunity to craft our own research project, adding an extra layer of depth to the overall experience."

"It typically spans nine days, including travel on both ends, allowing for seven days devoted to research," shared Didden. "Typically, we have four or five faculty members accompanying a group of around 12 to 14 students."

Among those students are Viewpoint alumni Brad Martin ’13 and Dara Yiu ’14, both attributing their ongoing interest in STEM and acknowledging the significant role the experience played in shaping their current careers.

"Collaborating with Dr. Peter Edmunds on the coral recruitment project was undeniably one of the most enriching experiences. It had a lasting impact on me, to the extent that for the senior career day, I chose to shadow him,” said Yiu. “Spending the day at CSUN with his graduate students provided valuable insights into university programs, helping me envision potential paths in that direction."

“Being placed in an actual research station as a high school student was an incredible experience. It differs from a typical summer camp where activities are geared towards enjoyment,” said Martin. “Here, you have to discover the satisfaction in the work, and making that transition as a high school student is quite distinctive. It's a fantastic trip for anyone passionate about environmental sciences.”

Fast-forward to the present day, Callahan, Yiu, and Martin have each pursued distinct paths in the field, showcasing the diverse opportunities available.

Callahan embarked on his journey in Chemical Engineering at Stanford before pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology at the University of California, San Francisco. Currently, he is transitioning towards venture capital in biotech, with a focus on creating and investing in innovative companies.

Meanwhile, Yiu is immersed in her Ph.D. in Marine Biology at the University of Maine, delving into the study of kelp forest ecosystems along the Maine coast and their responses to climate change. On the other hand, Martin earned his Bachelor's degree in Marine Science at the University of Miami. After graduation, he spent two years as a technician, dedicating his evenings to studying electrical, software, and mechanical engineering. His perseverance led to his first engineering job, and he currently holds a position as an engineer at Teledyne.

“Following their paths is incredibly rewarding. Often, during their four years in high school, students come and go, and it's easy to lose touch. However, with these three in particular, I have actively stayed in contact,” said Didden. “Witnessing how they've not only absorbed knowledge from various sources, including me, but also how they've built upon it for their careers, is truly fulfilling.”

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