For Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast, ’11, who was listed in Forbes fifth “30 Under 30” list for her work in STEM education, her recognition is just the latest development of her ongoing successes at USC and the surrounding community. A self-proclaimed “Trojan for life,” Kast holds a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees from USC, but her journey as a member of the Trojan Family started earlier. Her, father, Martin Kast, is a professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and she grew up learning about his Human Papilomavirus and cervical cancer research.
“I was definitely inspired to be in STEM because of my dad,” Kast said, “He was very happy when I applied to USC as a freshman biology major. It’s because of [my family], and [it’s] because of all of the other STEM education mentors I’ve had throughout the years that I’ve been able to get this successful.”
USC alumni were among many featured in Forbes’ list, acknowledging influential teens and 20-something’s from 20 different fields. Starting with 15,000 nominees, only 600 young visionaries made the “30 Under 30 Class of 2016.” Out of those who made the final cut, whom Forbes calls “Today’s Brightest Young Stars And The Future Leaders Of Everything,” at least 11 are USC alumni. USC boasts finalists from seven categories, from games to venture capital.
Now STEM Programs Manager for USC’s Joint Educational Program, Kast attended JEP’s summer science program at Catalina Island in high school. She went on to volunteer with JEP during her time as an undergraduate and found her home there in science education.
“Being a science major and starting in research science academia, I never really felt like I fit in,” Kast said. “I started doing a lot more work with the community right outside USC and I found that I truly loved that more. I felt that really was my calling.”
Since beginning at JEP, Kast said, she has become their “poster child” for STEM education. Not only does she coordinate the STEM component of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a comprehensive, seven-year college preparatory program for low-income youth, but she also introduces elementary school kids in the community to the world of science with educational programs like Wonderkids and the Young Scientist Program, which both work on the sciences with local schools in Los Angeles.
“There’s usually not a lot of science in the lower grades,” Kast said. “We choose different fields of science, we do really hands-on science activities to introduce that particular field, and at the end of that unit we actually get a scientist in that field that comes in and talks. Kids so young love to ask questions and they can ask them to a real scientist.”
Kast also instructs USC undergraduates in volunteer science education. In all she does, from running these programs to wearing science-themed dresses in class, Kast hopes to inspire a love for science.
“My kids know that I really like science, and I hope to inspire them to like science,” Kast said. I want them to see how fun science can be. Even if they don’t go into science, I want the to at least appreciate what it can do.”
Kast’s advice for USC students and aspiring professionals is to be your authentic self and follow your passions. Although she won recognition for science, like many of the others on the list, Kast wears many hats and she encourages others to do the same.
“Get experience in what you love,” Kast said. “There are lots of ways to combine multiple loves, especially in science. Try to get experiences in all sorts of fields. Once you do know what you really like find those mentors. Find people that are doing what you like. Reach out.”