EXCEL Students Get Inspired with Inventing Self


Through its Inventing Self series of guest lectures, the district’s EXCEL program for the academically gifted provides an inspiring ongoing personal look at how successful individuals are living fulfilling, meaningful lives.

The first visitor this school year was teenager Ben Yao, a representative from Kids Change the World, a global youth-led nonprofit organization that envisions a world in which young people work to combat societal issues to ensure all are blessed with the opportunities that allow them to lead productive and fulfilling lives. At age 11, Yao was EXCEL’s youngest Inventing Self guest. Even before middle school, he was already very active in community service projects both inside and outside of school, and has been involved with many Kids Change the World activities, including the Smile Train Read-A-Thon, Cards for Kids program, collecting books and school supplies for children, and UNICEF Trick or Treat.

Yao was joined for the EXCEL presentation by his sister Amanda, speaking on how everyone can do his or her part to give back to an audience that ranged from fifth-graders through high schoolers. After the lecture, the EXCEL students began work on making cards for the Cards for Kids Program.

Most recently, science explorer and inventor Scott Bronson from Brookhaven National Laboratory visited as Inventing Self speaker, providing the EXCEL students with hands-on experience regarding genetics, virus inhibitors, fly fishing casting and the world of sledding with Alaskan malamutes. 

Bronson, the manager for BNL’s K-12 programs, holds 11 copyrights for science education kits he developed with Brookhaven scientists, for which he was named Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Inventor of the Year. He also oversees the lab’s Elementary School Science Fair and Maglev and Bridge contests. Prior to joining BNL, he worked at the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and appeared on PBS show “Scientific American Frontiers.”

According to EXCEL coordinator Julia Johnson, “Inventing Self was created with the objective of helping students address perhaps the most important question life has to offer: How do you create the person you wish to become? In other words, how does one ‘invent’ oneself? This query goes beyond the topic of what career you wish to pursue, and delves into deeper questions of what life means to you, what morals, ethics and values guide your decisions and how you navigate life’s path. Inventing Self guests come from an eclectic range of backgrounds, yet they are all successful in that they are living a life that is true to themselves.”