Chirasree Mandal breaks stereotypes

Chirasree+Mandal+works+on+a+chemistry+lab.
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Chirasree Mandal breaks stereotypes

Chirasree Mandal works on a chemistry lab.

Chirasree Mandal works on a chemistry lab.

Chirasree Mandal works on a chemistry lab.

Chirasree Mandal works on a chemistry lab.

Sofie Kennedy, Entertainment Editor

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Imagine being at the top of your class, working research internships at one of the world’s highest ranking universities since you were 15, being co-president of WiSTEM at your high school, conducting independent studies to integrate computer science and research labs, all while being a part of the LGBTQ community and encouraging minorities to break stereotypes such as “only men can do science”. Meet Chirasree Mandal, ETHS senior.

“I love trying to understand all of the complex things about the world around me. I think it’s amazing that we have the tools to visualize, compute, and model everything from how blood flows to the path of comets,” says Mandal.

Mandal has been curious about the world since they were a child. Their parents are both doctors and play a key role in their fascination of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“My mom really influenced my interest in science, she would tell me stories of famous inventions and medical discoveries at bedtime when I was a kid,” says Mandal. “I involved myself in all the extra science, math and technology activities I could until I found the ones I really liked. Science fairs and doing experiments were always my favorite.”

Just a few years later, at age 15, Mandal starting participating in a research lab internship at Northwestern. The lab studies transport proteins that bring nutrients in and out of the cell and their role in diseases, drugs and cancer. Mandal took this research to the next level by doing an independent research project where they developed a method to study the proteins using computer programs and digital data which work much faster than traditional lab research. Mandal took part in this internship for two summers, and credits their interest in computer science to their experience working at Northwestern.

“It was my first major research paper/project, so it is really close to me. It is a major reason why I’m interested in computer science and its applications,” says Mandal.

Currently, Mandal is co-president of the WiSTEM club at ETHS. WiSTEM stands for Women in Science Technology Engineering and Math. WiSTEM works to inspire girls to become involved in science and raise awareness about the gender inequality in STEM.

“This year, I’m really committed to making it [WiSTEM] an inclusive space for queer, trans and POC students, like myself. I work with a great team of co-presidents to plan and run events like guest panels and hands-on engineering workshops,” says Mandal. “I originally joined as a freshman, because I felt really discouraged and under-confident in some STEM communities at ETHS, because I am not a white man. I still feel that way sometimes, but WiSTEM was key to how far I’ve come in science. It gave me opportunities, role models and a community that I’m forever grateful for.”

Along with being co-president of WiSTEM, Mandal takes on 4 AP Chem/Phys, Multivariable Calculus/Linear Algebra, AP Spanish 2, Gender in Literature and an independent study in History/Sociology that looks at how women of color, capitalism and fashion interact. The Chem/Phys program has given Mandal the opportunity to participate in STEM competitions. They have competed in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, the Chicago Junior Science and Humanities Symposium and the COMAP Math Modelling Competition, where your team gets 36 hours to solve an open-ended math question.

After high school, Mandal definitely plans on continuing to explore STEM. Though, they are still deciding between pursuing medicine or engineering. They want to pursue a degree in computer science, math and biology and a PhD in college that connects those fields in order to do research that helps people and the environment.

“There’s also part of me that wants to be a doctor, and another part that wants to work in the tech or engineering industries. Maybe I’ll try it all,” says Mandal.

They feel that STEM in incredibly important to understand in order to move forward as a society, fix mistakes and make well-informed decisions as individuals and as a whole. Mandal encourages all types of people to learn some STEM.

“STEM is for everyone; we all have a stake in it. I believe that it’s not about crazy tech innovation or competing with other countries, it’s about a gradual and beautiful understanding of how complex our world is which is really inspiring and humbling,” says Mandal.

As for now, Mandal looks forward to research experience this summer, going to college and studying applied math, computer science or computational biology.