Ever since second grade, when Damani Eubanks became fascinated with an endangered rainforest species called the “okapi” during a special program at Oakcrest Elementary in Landover, he has been interested in environmental science. Now, at the age of 17, he is working to bring out that same interest in Prince George’s County youths by creating an event to expose younger students to science careers.
“Without that exposure to push me into that, I don’t think I would be as interested,” said Eubanks, a senior at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale who plans to major in environmental science.
Eubanks was selected as one of 12 students from across the nation — and the first one from Prince George’s — to attend in June the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, an annual thinktank event that hosts discussions on the world’s biggest issues from the economy to the Middle East, he said.
The trip was part of a leadership program launched in 2005 by the Bezos Family Foundation, an educational nonprofit established by Jackie and Mike Bezos, parents of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, owner of The Gazette. The program selects and sponsors students who apply to attend the festival.
Upon return, students are each given $1,000 to host local ideas festivals that address issues in their communities, Eubanks said.
“Like all Bezos scholars, Damani brings passion and a fresh perspective to our world’s most pressing issues,” Jackie Bezos said. “He is poised to make a significant and lasting contribution to his community.”
Eubanks said he hopes to have the county’s first local ideas festival ready by April. The event, to be held at Flowers, will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in the county’s elementary schools, he said.
“In elementary school, there were years when I had no science class at all, and I know some elementary students that only have one hour of science class per week, so how could one expect for them to be interested in what they don’t get to experience?” said Eubanks, who is the son of Segun Eubanks, the county’s school board chairman.
“I’m excited [Damani] chose something that’s going to be his passion,” Segun Eubanks said. “As parents, we couldn’t be happier, and as an educator, of course, it’s ideal for us ... . We know we want to get kids engaged in science and math as early as possible.”
In addition to the $1,000 Bezos grant, Flowers received $1,000 from the Howard University College of Pharmacy in Washington, D.C. The ideas festival is currently budgeted at around $2,000, said Lisza Morton, head of the science and technology program at Flowers. She attended the Aspen Ideas Festival as Eubanks’ mentor and is working closely with him to create the event.
If all goes to plan, Eubanks and other STEM-focused Flowers students will partner with students at the county’s two other STEM-specialized schools, Oxon Hill High and Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, he said. The student-run event will feature several hands-on activity tables for students from nine selected elementary schools, chosen based on proximity to Flowers as well as those with which Flowers already has relationships, he said.
Eubanks said they also hope to bring real scientists to the event to discuss their careers with students.
“This [event] gives students the opportunity to connect to STEM careers as early as pre-K,” said Flowers principal Gorman Brown.