Five years ago the Child Mind Institute launched the Rising Scientist program — a scholarship award honoring exceptional high school students with an interest in medical research. The award was designed to encourage the Rising Scientists academic pursuits while also introducing them to the scientific community.

As we approach this years Rising Scientist ceremony, held in conjunction with our On the Shoulders of Giants science symposium in October, we though we’d check in with the alums of the inaugural class, now entering their senior year in college. We thought they’d have interesting things to say about the journey from intrepid high school investigators to young adults on the cusp of new decisions and opportunities — and that they’d have sage advice for those following in their footsteps.

Sophia Edelstein is a human biology major at Stanford with a concentration in healthcare economics and global health. She’s been admitted to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, but is considering her next steps — including the possibility of working for a few years in business before going to medical school. “I’m really interested in the overlap between business and medicine,” she said.

To that end, she just completed an internship at Goldman Sachs, working in non-profit investment banking with a focus on the health care sector. At Stanford, she helped launch a startup that developed eyeglasses for kids that can change color and shape. “We found a huge need in the population because kids are stigmatized and uninspired by this simple medical device,” she says.

And her studies take an interdisciplinary look at health care, economics, and government, as she strives to identify ways to increase access to care and “level the playing field” globally. Her current research at Stanford Medical School investigates the effects of corruption on private healthcare systems, including in the developing world. Often, she has to start from square one — frustrating but exhilarating. “Data is unavailable. Just defining metrics is the first step.”

Early on, Sophia “fell in love with fields of research that combine different areas — like my love for biology and chemistry with an applied field like economics.” What draws her in is “finding a new problem, and a trying a new way to solve it.”

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Mariel Emrich studies human development at Cornell and works in the Attention, Memory, and Perception Lab in the psychology department. “I definitely want a career in health care,” she says, but what exactly that looks like is fluid. That doesn’t bother her, and she’s considering “med school, maybe psychology, maybe a different health career like physical therapy.” Her comfort with collaboration and fluid boundaries echoes Sophia’s interest in new kinds of problem solving. “I have many interests in the health field and I’m trying to bridge across them,” Mariel says.

This summer, she worked at NYU shadowing a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor in the cardiopulmonary department. The experience opened her eyes to a new level of medical care and a new model of doctor-patient interaction. “I loved seeing how the patients improved over time,” she. “I think it’s similar to psychology — helping a patient with a mental disorder, being with them through the process and watching them improve.”

Mariel credits her pursuit of new experiences and openness to opportunity with changing her focus over the past four years. “I knew I was very interested in science, especially biology, in high school,” she says, and that interest is what made her a Rising Scientist winner. Now, she says, “that has changed into health and psychology instead of hard science. You never think you’ll end up where you are, and it changes over time.”

Both Mariel and Sophia exemplify the central premise of the Rising Scientist scholarship and On the Shoulders of Giants symposium: to nurture a community of cross-disciplinary researchers that brings the best and the brightest together to advance the pursuit of knowledge in the interest of helping others.

But more than we could have imagined, Sophia and Mariel and their Rising Scientist peers have embrace a broader engagement with the world, collaborating across medicine, industry, government and more to address systemic questions and bold solutions. And that is really about nurturing strong and adventurous communities dedicated to asking questions and helping each other.

Sophia recalls that “meeting other incredible high school students interested in the same thing I was” was a highlight of her Rising Scientist experience. Mariel helps students discover and cultivate that interest, despite substantial barriers, with a Cornell project called Science Kits. “We work with underprivileged middle schools to select experiments that are likely to stimulate student’s interest in the science field, and provide them with necessary materials,” she says. “I think it’s really great that they get to experience that.” So do we.

We hope you’ll join us in congratulating Mariel, Sophia, and their peers from all of the Rising Scientist classes, and join us this October for the scholarship presentation and the On the Shoulders of Giants symposium featuring the work of John Rubenstein, MD, PhD.