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A Tribute to a Sister who is a Super Hero in STEM

A young Canadian pays tribute to her older sibling, a nursing student who exemplifies STEM in service to others

Published February 28, 2022

By Roger Torda

A Tribute to a Sister who is a Super Hero in STEM
Kaitlyn Holmquist

Kaitlyn Holmquist

Kelsey and Kaitlyn

Kelsey and Kaitlyn

Sometimes superheroes can be found close to home. For Kelsey Holmquist, the best example of a Super Hero of STEM is her older sister, who “was a first year nursing student when the world began to fall apart at the start of 2020.”

Kelsey, a Canadian high school student, submitted the story of her sister, Kaitlyn, in the “Super Heroes of STEM” essay competition, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and the Global STEM Alliance of the New York Academy of Sciences. Kelsey’s entry, one of 74 from around the world, came in first place.

Kelsey wrote that her sister is her superhero because, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses “are the ones ensuring that victims of COVID-19 are given dignity in their recovery or final moments; they are the ones ensuring that humanity is not lost when patients are regarded as little more than a statistic.”

Kelsey is now in the 12th grade in Edmonton, Alberta. She’s been accepted into a Bachelor of Commerce program at MacEwan University in Edmonton, the same university where her sister is studying nursing. Kelsey plans to major in legal studies, and then pursue a law degree. “I am not entirely sure which specific branch of law I will pursue,” Kelsey told us. “But as of right now I am very interested in exploring the way law applies to those with mental illness, and how we can ensure it is applied justly.”

Kelsey tells a compelling story in her essay, “The Unnoticed Hero,” about her sister’s decision to study nursing while pressured to become a doctor instead. She had excelled in math and sciences throughout high school, and she faced “backlash from teachers and peers alike aimed to guilt her into choosing a stereotypically more challenging and professionally esteemed program….”

But as Kelsey points out, registered nurses perform important – if sometimes unacknowledged – work, exercising independent thinking, catching errors in physicians’ instructions, and carrying out “life saving measures for the critical first two minutes before a code team can arrive.” Kelsey also writes that nurses are also scientists:

The image of a scientist has expanded throughout the years to include women, but it still remains entrenched in the idea that it must involve a dedicated laboratory and research team. Nurses defy this stereotype. With each patient Holmquist interacts with, she must identify the best approach. Similar to a high stakes hypothesis, she must quickly formulate a plan of action well supported by evidence and research.

Kelsey adds about her sister’s work as a health care aide during her first year in nursing school:

With each and every interaction Holmquist has been involved in, an impact has been made. One smile can make the difference in having an elderly patient get out of bed, which is one step closer to walking, and one step closer to playing with one’s grandchildren. There are no limits to the ripple effect of conviviality.

The 2021 Super Heroes of STEM Essay Contest was part of the 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program of the Global STEM Alliance. The Global STEM Alliance promotes STEM skills and supports future scientists and engineers, matching them with inspirational mentors and providing opportunities to tackle real world challenges.

To hear Kelsey discuss her essay, visit the Johnson & Johnson Superstars of Science website.