Oftentimes teenagers and young adults already active in their field of choice are referred to as “future” leaders, but nothing about Hannah Herbst suggests that she is only a force to be reckoned with later. Though some people think Hannah is too young to be involved with science, she thinks being young is an advantage that gives her “just enough audacity” to solve problems. Consequently, she is making waves of change now and she hopes to inspire other young people to do the same. "I believe that inspiring others to apply science to life shouldn’t start when we’re adults or even teenagers," she told Fresh U. "it should begin in the elementary school classroom."
Newly 17, Hannah has already presented inventions and research to the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, the United State of Women, the Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit, 3M and various other national and international platforms. She is also a full-time college student at Florida Atlantic University High School. Here, freshmen are taught the foundations of a traditional high school education while sophomores, juniors and seniors spend their time on campus, taking college courses full-time. (To learn more, click here.) Most of the college students and the professors don’t even know that some of their peers are still in high school.
According to Hannah, this program has allowed her, and many other students, to be involved in valuable opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. In fact, it is part of the reason Hannah does what she does.
Hannah’s love of STEM started in the seventh grade when her parents encouraged her to attend an engineering and technology camp at Florida Atlantic University. Though Hannah was the only girl in the program, she didn’t allow herself to be troubled for long. The excitement and the chance to make effective innovations with science got her hooked. "That week changed my life — I’ve been building robots with boys ever since!" she said.
She admits that the hardest part about being a woman in her field are the mental obstacles she’s had to overcome. There have been multiple instances where she was the only girl in the room, which can be intimidating, but she’s learned that in the lab, gender doesn’t matter. "All of us are there for a common purpose, which is to make the world better," she said.
Through her experiences, she has been fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends and teammates that don’t look down on her for being a girl.
To encourage other girls who are interested in STEM to pursue their dreams, Hannah suggests simply going for it. Trying is a powerful first step. "Don’t be afraid to be the only girl in the room," she said, "it may seem intimidating, but the boys will often come to accept and appreciate your contribution. Everyone brings something different to the table. Don’t be afraid to speak up!"
If you ask Hannah what she considers her title to be, she will tell you she is a social innovator. This means that she works to help those in need by combining the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Projects she and other social innovators work on range from finding ways to provide sustainable resources to underdeveloped nations to addressing issues and finding solutions for advanced problems in first-world nations.
For example, in one of Hannah’s recent YouTube videos, she mentions a project she is working on that will bring electricity to underdeveloped nations, such as Ethiopia, where she has a pen pal.
In her own words, Hannah described her mission as follows: "I’ve always been passionate about helping others. My goal as an innovator is to help those in need; whether their energy supply, opportunity, or environment is at risk."
Encompassed by all of her work is Hannah's passion for research. She says being able to see her ideas come off of a drawing board to become tangible solutions is a feeling unlike any other.
In addition to being an active world-changer, Hannah enjoys fencing, playing soccer, going to the beach and hanging out with her friends.
This piece was written as part of Fresh U's bi-weekly "Young Women in Science" series. You can read the first feature here.
Lead Image Credit: Hannah Herbst via Twitter