Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Zinia Khattar of Scientella Is Helping To Change Our World

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Keep a growth mindset. There will be times when your ideas are masked by others. Sometimes, it is important to stay persistent, but at others, you should stay aware and open to others so that together, we can all learn from one another’s competencies.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zinia Khattar.

Zinia Khattar, a current sophomore at Del Norte High School is one of seven National Headquarter leaders for her nonprofit, Scientella. At Scientella, Zinia and her team aim to empower the next generation of women leaders and close the gender gap in STEM fields through exclusive apprenticeships. Beyond her non-profit, she is an enthusiastic learner with an immense interest in biomedical sciences. She is a successful competitor in many biology competitions. Zinia is an avid researcher and loves using bioinformatics to investigate cellular phenomena. She hopes to pursue her further studies on the pre-med path.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born and raised with my younger sister in San Diego, California. We grew up surrounded by scientists and engineers who always encouraged us to pursue anything of our interest. As we explored our passions, we were never pressured to commit to anything and instead were incentivized to only go after activities that truly delighted us.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause? My birthday falls in August, just after the summer holidays. As I got older and began to apply for summer programs, I frequently found myself ineligible to apply. While most of my peers got a chance to pursue these opportunities, I remained perplexed, trying to make the most of my time, but held back. With Scientella, we ensure that girls from around the world are no longer faced with the troubles of age barriers. Instead, by providing research experience from various fields of STEM, many of our Scientella participants are immersed in unique matches that define their interests and path to future careers.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never pursue them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

In 2020, at the peak of the COVID pandemic, I kept thinking about my future, my interests, and how I could make an impact. One evening, I listened to my friend talk about how she finally got accepted into a summer program after years of waiting to pass the age restriction, but then the program was canceled because of the pandemic protocols. Ultimately, she never got to pursue the research interest that she had been hoping for since the start of her freshman year. Her experience sparked me to lead an organization that would help students get unlimited access to exclusive internships both virtual and in-person. I wanted to make sure that my peers would never have to go through a similar ordeal, and by being a member of Scientella, we guarantee that.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

One big aspect of establishing an organization, or even setting a goal is to share it. Without a discussion, we can’t gain valuable insight, direction, perspective, or even advice from others who may have attempted or accomplished something similar to our feats in the past. For example, I discussed and laid out expectations of myself with my parents and teachers who have guided me through significant decision-making stages. Once you have established this foundation, stay true to yourself and be sure you can commit to your ambition. If there is one person who must stay involved in your efforts, it has to be yourself. Finally, discuss your idea with friends to advertise the mission, expand your network, and build an encouraging community.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Recently, I became a recipient of the Points of Lights Award. I was recognized for my sincere efforts to support students globally. To celebrate this honor, Dr. Black, Mr. Ricardo, my mother, and the Points of Light organization themselves featured me and my story on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. As word spread, I received kudos from companies like Illumina and Qualcomm. I was also connected with successful entrepreneurs, like the CEO of Athena Pinnacle, an organization I have been following since the 7th grade. I am extremely proud of Scientella and myself for getting recognized for our effort. I hope to continue to collaborate with many accomplished individuals in the future to serve the common good.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? When at in-person competitions, I spend my time between events trying to network. During one conversation, I explained to a group of students our mission at Scientella and encouraged them to join. I did not realize, however, that the people I was talking to were indeed students from my chapter. I kept talking until I realized one individual looked and sounded familiar. After noticing, we were carried away with laughter when they recited Scientella’s motto of ‘Be Good and Be Hopeful’ before I could. From this incident, I learned the importance of being engaged with every person I lead and being cognizant of any audience.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have had three extremely dedicated and knowledgeable mentors: Mr. Ricardo Dos Santos, Ms. Raquel Dos Santos, and Dr. Fiona Black. Mr. Ricardo and Raquel are the head founders of Scientella and have worked with me to lead and grow our organization. They have helped foster a strong alliance with many STEM companies to create research opportunities for students. Mr. Ricardo has been able to establish a supportive platform for initiating and pursuing ideas. Raquel has devoted much of her time to ensure that our headquarter leaders remain on track. Furthermore, Dr. Black has been a significant guide and mentor through my academic and extracurricular endeavors. We first met in our mentor/mentee session set up for all members. Scientella mentor sessions are generally held for two meetings. However, Dr. Black has kindly made herself available and provided me with opportunities that have helped expand my connections to other incredible individuals, who I am honored to learn from today.

As a whole, Scientella is a non-profit led by volunteers consisting of many student-leaders and adult role models. Without the well-established and cooperative team we have today, Scientella would not be nearly as successful and impactful in our society.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

In my school chapter, one participant was a senior who became actively involved in our Scientella matches, specifically our research projects with Microsoft and Qualcomm. She was able to explore the depths of augmented and virtual reality, along with the features of cryptocurrency. Eventually, she took her learnings from the Scientella experience and applied them to other opportunities beyond our non-profit, leading her way to pursue a degree in engineering at MIT.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

After being hampered by the 16-year-old requirement to participate in internships, despite satisfying grade level expectations and other prerequisites, I hope to be the change: communicating with politicians and others to help inform various admission offices of the impacts of such inflexible rules on both the growing qualifications and experiences of interested and deserving students.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Metaphorically, have rhino skin. Throughout your career, there may be people who will try to discourage or hamper you. It is crucial to remember your motives and stay confident. With rhino skin, know not to let small obstacles dissuade you from reaching your objectives.

2. Keep a growth mindset. There will be times when your ideas are masked by others. Sometimes, it is important to stay persistent, but at others, you should stay aware and open to others so that together, we can all learn from one another’s competencies.

3. Be open to making mistakes. To become better, there needs to be something to improve on. Those are your mistakes, which aren’t wrongdoings, but rather necessary and incredibly important occurrences.

4. Build a strong network. Establishing an organization takes time and resources. With an advocating and motivating group, it is incredibly easier to be successful and gain key insight. For example, by getting support from many experienced individuals, we were able to help Scientella excel.

5. Push yourself and your organization beyond the horizon. It is important to strive past our comfort zone. Only then will you achieve something truly meaningful and valuable to your progress.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

If you want to make a difference, start with the people closest to you: your peers. Create a space of encouragement amongst your group so you can grow together. If you want something, overcome your hesitations and make it happen.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

President Barack Obama. Just in October of 2022, President Obama was due to present at the Illumina Genetics Forum in San Diego California. Immediately upon hearing this news, I got in touch with every

Illumina employee I knew. I kindly requested a few VPS at the time if I could take a group of young, striving, and brilliant girls to participate in a discussion with the former president. After weeks of trying to arrange a visit to the forum, we were declined. However, our mission continues; Scientella women lead with confidence and grit. Despite the turndown, my desire to meet President Obama remains as strong as ever. Both Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s work to support numerous non-profits around the nation and education for all students is aligned with our mission at Scientella: Empowering the next generation of women leaders in STEM and closing the gender gap in the industry. By meeting President Obama, I hope to discuss potential collaborations with other organizations around the nation and gain valuable insight into how we at Scientella can improve our methods and build confident leaders.

How can our readers follow you online?

Anyone can follow us online on our Instagram account, on LinkedIn, or through our website. This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Zinia Khattar of Scientella Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.