In middle school, Chelsea Thompson and Stephanie Fishkin entered The Ingenuity Project, an advanced instructional program for Baltimore city students that aims to launch the next generation of STEM leaders.
Now juniors at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute — aka Poly — Thompson and Fishkin are taking on AP courses and research. Throughout, the Ingenuity Project, which is offered for about 700 students from sixth through 12 grade, has remained a constant, and especially supported a love of math.
“I really loved the way that they taught math,” Fishkin said. “It really pushed me to understand it and love the subject more. As I went on to Poly I discovered that it might be one of of my favorite subjects because of the teachers I’ve had.”
Along the way, they’ve gained additional interests in psychology and statistics. That’s thanks to a new area of Ingenuity’s research practicum that allows students to undertake projects inside local tech companies: In Thompson and Fishkin’s case, they’re exploring those subjects more deeply inside Southeast Baltimore personality assessment startup Traitify.
“They’re working really hard,” said Anne Claggett, a statistical researcher at Traitify who is mentoring Thompson and Fishkin.
Over the summer, Fishkin and Thompson visited Traitify’s Haven Street offices once a week, and spent one day at a library on Johns Hopkins University’s campus. They did a deep dive on personality theory, and learned how Traitify makes the personality assessments that are used by companies to hire and build teams.
Fishkin said it was a bit intimidating at first to work at inside a company’s office, but they grew to like an environment that was more laid back than how they’d envisioned an office to be.
“It was fun to learn new things. We started working with statistics. That intrigued me, too,” said Thompson, who is interested in biomedical engineering.
They also spent time with tutorials and other materials learning how to use the statistical programming language R; along with the language itself, it provided a lesson in perseverance, they said. They’re among more students who are getting interested in learning the programming languages, and learning on their own.
“You have to keep searching, keep pushing,” Thompson said.
From these learnings, the students found an interesting area to explore.
“We learned that there is a correlation between academic achievement and personality,” said Fishkin, who can see herself applying her interests at the nexus of sociology, public health or government.
While there is published research on this subject area, much of it studies college-level students and adults.
For their research project, Fishkin and Thompson are going to give personality assessments to students at Poly — and perhaps beyond — to further test correlations with academic achievement, as well as whether race, gender and ZIP code play a role. It’s focused around the “Big 5” personality theory, which was one of the areas they learned about over the summer.
“There’s not a lot [of research published] at the high school level, so this is going to be a lot of fun,” Claggett said.
When the school year arrived, the Traitify researcher began going to Poly to work with the students as they worked to submit the research plans for approval and prepared materials such as permission forms.
The research component has long been a part of programming at the quarter-century-old Ingenuity Project, which is a nonprofit that operates out of Poly and four middle schools. With students mostly working in labs at Johns Hopkins and other research institutions, the idea has always been to hone skills that would prepare students for college, and many submit work to the prominent competition Regeneron Science Talent Search, where they’ve earned accolades.
But program leaders saw the growth of the workforce in computer and data science, as well as growing tech companies in Baltimore. With the innovation focus area that’s new this year, the nonprofit is allowing room for students to explore areas like applied math, statistics, computer science, data science and machine learning.
“We wanted students to get other opportunities outside of academia,” said Ingenuity Project Research Coordinator Dr. Nicole Rosen. That led them “to look at businesses in Baltimore so students could also really see the application of being a statistician.”
Along with AP courses that they’re taking alongside the research, Fishkin and Thompson’s work will give them skills to prepare for college, Rosen said.
At the same time, they’re finding that having a high school student’s perspective can help local businesses.
While learning about Traitify’s personality assessments, Fishkin and Thompson helped the company test new assessments. Internal testing is a regular part of the process prior to third-party validation, and the outside perspective provided help with making the assessments clearer for those who aren’t in the psychology field, Claggett said.
“We’re finding our high school students as young innovators have questions and perspective that us adults don’t have,” Rosen said. “They’re asking questions we haven’t even thought of and we want to give them that space, that opportunity to ask those questions, especially in professional environments, and also contribute to those businesses.”