As Benders took shape in 2020, I sometimes doubted the decision to place my quartet of characters in high school. Would it be more believable for them to be in college, instead? Or already on the job? My minds eye saw them clearly still in that liminal space between high school and college—between childhood and adulthood—but did that work for the story?
The answers to these nagging questions came in the form of an NPR Morning Edition story that July. A young woman, a high school senior named Lillian Petersen, had just received a prestigious STEM award, the Regeneron Science Talent Search. Her project focused on using satellite data to predict crop harvest yields, a major step toward countering the effects of food insecurity. And which school did Ms. Petersen attend? None other than Los Alamos High.
More recently, two high school seniors from St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans, Calcea Johnson and Ne’Kiya Jackson, presented an original new proof of the Pythagorean Theorem to attendees of the American Mathematical Society meeting in Georgia. Whereas most previous proofs typically relied on the theorem itself for their foundations, Johnson and Jackson based their solution on basic sine function definitions, added a touch of calculus via the use of an infinite series, and created something all their own.
Did I really need to hear that NPR story to believe in Ellie? I didn’t. Carmela Teoli, the brave young factory worker in Benders was only fourteen when she helped the labor movement win an important fight with the mill owners in Lawrence, MA, and is inspirational enough in her own right. Truth-speakers like Anne Frank and Hilde Lysiak; environmentalists Greta Thunberg and Bindi Irwin; civil rights advocates Claudette Colvin and Malala Yousafzai… it’s not hard to find brave and brilliant young women around the globe who have the world a better place.