Fairfield student’s STEM-powering podcast reaches 23 countries

Through her podcast STEMpowering Conversations, Fairfield Ludlowe High School student Lauren Ji hopes to demystify STEM fields and show her younger listeners that they can achieve what her guests have.

Through her podcast STEMpowering Conversations, Fairfield Ludlowe High School student Lauren Ji hopes to demystify STEM fields and show her younger listeners that they can achieve what her guests have.

/ Lauren Ji / Contributed Photo

FAIRFIELD — A town high school student has found the intersection of her two favorite topics after she created a podcast aimed at demystifying STEM.

Lauren Ji, a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, said her podcast STEMpowering Conversations blends her love of STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with journalism. Ji’s podcast, which can be found on Spotify and Podbean, has thousands of downloads across 23 countries.

Ji said she comes from a STEM-oriented family. With a financial analyst father, a patent attorney mother who specializes in chemistry and a software pro sister, she said she has always been in advanced math and science classes.

But journalism is an interest that sparked on its own, Ji said, without influence from her family. Through interviews with people working in STEM fields, she said she gets to learn about both her interests.

“The reason I’m so passionate about my podcast is because it’s a very cool intersection of what I found on my own and what I want to do, but also my family’s interest,” she said. “This was a perfect opportunity to combine two of my interests and to learn about them both through a different lens.”

Ji, who already worked on a podcast with a friend, said she started the show in the spring when she recorded an interview with Laurie Chipperfield. A recipient of the Connecticut Women of Innovation Award, at Pfizer, Chipperfield oversees the manufacturing of lipids that are essential to the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I worked on it over the summer — gathering people to interview, learning how to edit — I got podcast material,” she said. “That helped me launch at the beginning of August.”

Ji noted that, when she first started recording episodes, she always had a hard time finding a good place to do so. Living in a noisy house, she would find herself in the garage, the bathroom and even her parent’s car.

“Now, I mostly just film in my room and tell everyone in my family to be quiet,” she said.

STEMpowering Conversations, which has 11 episodes as on Friday afternoon, features guests such as Nobel Laureate physician-scientist William G. Kaelin Jr. and founder and CEO of the Plastic Bank, David Katz. Each episode runs for approximately a half hour.

Ji said her parents have been helpful in suggesting topics to cover, adding she searches for people to interview based on the topic. She said she also interviewed several different Columbia University engineering students that she met while in a program there in the summer.

“These undergraduate or graduate students, they weren’t the main professors but they were helping us on the side,” she said. “I got to know them pretty well and they’re all super nice and super supportive. So, when I reached out to them after the program, they were all willing to help me.”

Ji’s interviews don’t just focus on the work the guest is doing, but also on their life and how they got to where they are. She said she comes up with questions before chatting with them by doing a deep search of their Linkedin page, plus searching for any available articles or videos about them.

With an initial goal of inspiring high school students, Ji said she always ends an interview by asking the guest for their advice to high schoolers interested in STEM.

“I made this because at my high school there are definitely a lot of great STEM opportunities, but I wanted to have more of a direct connect with role models, with people who are in to the field working,” she said.

Through her chats with guests, Ji said she has developed her communication and interviewing skills. One major takeaway she has had during the process of creating her podcast and talking to experts is how to use setbacks as learning experiences.

Ji said she wants listeners to understand that anyone can be the person she interviews. While people may look at winning the Nobel Prize as unobtainable, she said, Kaelin was a Ludlowe graduate who noted in his interview that he did not do well in high school.

“I think that is the thing I’ve discovered while I’ve been conducting these interviews,” she said. “Everyone has a starting point. I want people to be inspired by the doctors and the engineers and the researchers that I interview, but I also want them to know that it is possible to become them one day.”

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com