They say inspiration can strike in the most unlikely places. For Alex IP, inspiration and ultimately social impact came from a failed college application. Alex founded The Xylom, a STEM-based media site, at 18 to make himself more appealing to his top university choice. Although Alex did not get into the college for which The Xylom was founded, he quickly realized the social impact that his site could bring about and continued to work on it. The Xylom is a media site that invites STEM professionals to share their personal stories outside of their research and aims to reveal the human side of scientists. The ultimate goal is to show how STEM professionals are changing the world and how they contribute to society both through and outside of their fields and to show the impact and diversity of science. The site shares stories that tackle three main questions.
What do STEM professionals look like?
How are STEM professionals shaped by events outside of the lab?
How do people respond to the changing world through science?
Thus far, The Xylom averages about 1000 unique users per month and has collected over 60 stories from over 40 contributors. Their contributors span across 20 countries and regions, work across multiple disciplines and are usually early-career science professionals such as graduate students or associate professors. Additionally, over half of these science professionals identify as non-male. The media site has been featured by top-tier STEM institutions such as Georgia Tech and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has been republished in leading industry media sites such as ASBMB Today. Alex, himself, has been selected for the 10 X 10 X TECH: 100 of the Institute's Most Interesting People, Places and Ideas by Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.
Alex feels that The Xylom and the power of narrative are socially relevant because it helps to bridge the gap between STEM professionals and the general public. Although STEM professionals are one of the most educated groups, they are also disproportionately affected by a legacy of social issues such as gender inequality, racism, mental health, and social harassment. Further, they are often not recognized for their work because of public indifference and a lack of non-technical communication skills and community engagement. Bridging the gap between these professionals and the general public aids in building a society where civil discussion is encouraged and backed by facts, fake news is eliminated, differences in viewpoints can be discussed without resentment, and where science can unlock everyone’s full potential. The most recent topic that The Xylom will be focusing on is how lives are changing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Alex, joining the class of 2019 Millennium Fellows was a natural progression for his project. Joining the Fellowship, connected him to experts and colleagues working in social impact, and gave his project exposure and standing.
“The Millennium Fellowship was immensely helpful because it taught the art and science of constructive criticism. It was challenging and rewarding to observe my fellow Millennium Fellows and discuss what I do so that I could see how well I am developing and delivering ideas; ie. how well strangers could understand what I am doing, how I am going to do it, and why it matters.”
The Fellowship also encouraged Alex to seek out similar initiatives and branch out in his community.
“Some great changes that happened (through the Millennium Fellowship) were that I put an increased emphasis in understanding similar events and initiatives in and around campus; I was able to collaborate with some professors and graduate students on my campus, also with our Student Government Association. Previously I was too occupied on outward growth (ie. connecting contributors from other localities) other than focusing on the stories within Georgia tech, which is a STEM-focused institute with a population of over 30,000! Personally, it also encouraged me to be more aware of things that are happening close to me.”
In the future, Alex envisions The Xylom to be the go-to media site for narratives around science and human connections. He would also like it to be made available in multiple languages, a feature that is currently being worked on, and would like it to develop a global audience and create partnerships with other media sites and international organizations. In the future, Alex would also like so solidify his love of science and story-telling and is currently considering graduate programs in policy and journalism.
“I enjoy storytelling and helping folks become more curious and compassionate of the world around us. Maybe that was why I was drawn into science in the first place, because science is inevitably, from the standpoint of a person of faith, understanding how God plays chess!”
Learn more about The Xylom: https://www.thexylom.com
Support The Xylom financially: https://www.patreon.com/thexylom