Alex Orak: A Future STEM Leader
Alex Orak has had a lifetime love affair with science. Orak recounted, “One of the earliest and fondest memories of my childhood was the excitement that I experienced building various structures from toy bricks.” When Orak’s family emigrated to the US from Ukraine in 2006 when he was 14, Orak faced the difficulty of not only moving to a new country and trying to fit in with his peer group, but also learning English. As they began to settle in Brooklyn, Orak quickly came into his own within math and sciences classes where he said “the language of equations and formulas was universal.”
Orak’s love of science carried through into his undergraduate studies at Hunter College where he majored in Chemistry. Orak started a Chemistry Club, became a physics science tutor and also facilitated several problem-solving sessions for Chemistry courses. Orak went onto complete an MS in Physiology and Biophysics from Georgetown University where he continued to inspire others around him. It was Orak’s early experiences with teachers and mentors that inspired him to join the AmeriCorps VISTA program. He said “I joined the New York Academy of Sciences as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer to pay forward the kindness of my mentors and to give back to the community.”
Currently, Alex is an adjunct faculty member in the CUNY system where he lectures on General Chemistry and also teaches a MCAT prep class through Kaplan Test Prep. We recently caught up with him to discuss his experience with science, how he got involved in the AmericaCorps VISTA program and also what he plans to do next.
Tell us a bit about your experience with AmeriCorps VISTA program the Academy.
In July, I embarked upon my year-long AmeriCorps VISTA service at the Academy on a mission to address poverty in the US. I work to develop and support programming that promotes the academic and professional success of traditionally underrepresented students in STEM. This is an opportunity to expand my impact on the community and utilize my skills in a meaningful way. I am happy to contribute too many wonderful programs at the Academy, such as Afterschool Science Mentoring Program, eCybermission, and many others. In the short time I have been involved with the Academy, I already had an opportunity to hone my communication, leadership, and critical thinking skills as I work alongside some of the most creative, intelligent, and motivated people to promote success and inclusion in STEM.
What role did your mentor play in helping you prepare for college?
In many ways it was thanks to my mentors that I was inspired to pursue science. Their guidance and support have allowed me to successfully assimilate into a new culture, learn English, and explore my passions. While leading problem solving and review sessions in college, I witnessed the benefits of approaching the students with the same care and understanding that my teachers had applied to me, whose mentorship extended beyond learning science.
What’s next for you?
Currently I am pursuing my passion for science and education by contributing my time to the Academy’s department of education to promote STEM outreach in NYC, additionally I am an adjunct lecturer for General Chemistry college course, and an MCAT instructor. In my future I hope to begin my medical education and enter healthcare, a field that combines my passion for science, lifelong learning, and service.