This month, as we think about gratitude, I reflect on the tremendous impact educators have had on my life. I would not be where I am today without the many teachers, counsellors, librarians and mentors who raised me, and now as an educator and mentor myself, I hope to pass on that encouragement to the next generation of students.
From the teachers who pushed me to do my best in class to the guidance counselors who helped me apply to colleges, I’m grateful that so many people in my life helped me become a first-generation student. , and now a successful artist and scientist. . Despite attending a Title 1 school in Memphis, TN with unfunded arts programs and a 95% math failure rate, my educators are committed to ensuring that my peers and me have all the opportunities in STEM and in the arts that they could manage. In my senior year, I received a full scholarship to attend American University in Washington, DC as a computer science major.
I quickly realized that I was doomed. As a first-generation college student, 900 miles from my family for the first time, I was already trying to get my bearings, but the real difficulties came during my introductory STEM classes. I was an avid and accomplished learner in elementary school, and was in the honors program at university on a scholarship, so why did I feel like everyone was miles ahead of me every time I set foot in a STEM class? Luckily, I had many teachers and advisors who took me under their wing and helped me “catch up” in math and science while fostering my interest in arts and design as a corollary. of my STEM work. Because of their willingness to guide me, I completed a BS in Computer Science and left DC for graduate school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York where I completed a Masters in Lighting in 2021 and am currently PhD student. student.
Through all of my experiences, I have discovered that the arts and sciences are extremely important parts of a comprehensive education. I also understand that these programs are historically underserved, especially for low-income and disadvantaged students. The Arts[HA1] teaches students creativity and confidence, and STEM teaches students problem-solving skills and technological literacy. When these two subjects are excluded from a child’s education, essential life skills and opportunities to explore potential passions and careers are missed. I am so grateful to the educators in my life who have enriched my educational journey with opportunities in STEM and A[HA2] rts, and I hope to bring these opportunities to more children.
As the reigning Miss USA, I have the opportunity to champion a cause of my choosing nationwide. I have chosen to advocate for the importance of STEM and arts education through my non-profit organization Art Technically. Every child deserves a chance to grow as an artist and scientist, regardless of their background. I have grown so much as an artist and scientist thanks to the dedicated educators who have helped guide me. As a mentor to STEM and arts students, I help them grow into whole individuals ready to do great things for the world, just like my teachers did for me. This opportunity is what I am most grateful for.
Lily K. Donaldson is the reigning Miss USA and a Ph.D. student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute studying built ecologies at the Institute for Energy, Built Environment and Intelligent Systems (EBESS). Originally from Memphis, she is passionate about advancing educational equity in traditionally underserved communities in the South and beyond, particularly as it relates to STEM (science, technology, engineering) education. and mathematics) and arts. She is the founder of Art Technically, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing STEM and arts educational opportunities for students in Title 1 and rural K-12 schools.