Maggie Pancost’s 10-year tenure as a NetPal coincides with the 10-year lifetime of the Novartis NetPals program, now at the Cambridge Street Upper School (CSUS). The coincidence is not surprising. It takes volunteers like Maggie to give a program like NetPals the resilience it needs to survive for ten years.
Maggie was nominated by Pam Shwartz, lead NetPals teacher at CSUS. As described by Pam, Maggie has been her “go-to” NetPal since the first year Pam was involved with NetPals. Beyond being a fantastic Netpal to each and every 7th grader she has been paired with, Pam says that Maggie has gone above and beyond for the program, volunteering to help recruit the Novartis’ NetPals cohort at the annual Novartis community service fair and coming to the school to introduce the program to seventh graders. As Pam describes it, “If you need something, Maggie is always willing to step up and help out.”
During Maggie’s tenure with NetPals, Maggie transitioned from a bench chemist to an IT liaison with Novartis chemists, trouble-shooting software tools which enable chemists to efficiently document their work. Maggie signed up for NetPals 10 years ago because she thought it would be a good way to be involved with young people while sharing her love of science. Maggie recalls having an adult mentor when she was in the third grade with whom she had sandwiches periodically. She remembers that this was a positive experience and feels that it is always good for students to be exposed to different people, to shake up their daily routine, to hear about things they haven’t heard about before.
From the early days of the NetPals program, Maggie volunteered to be one of the scientists to come to the school to introduce the students to NetPals and to her own work as a Novartis scientist. Over the years, Maggie says she has learned how to engage students without talking down to them and by connecting science to lived experience. She usually starts by asking students if anyone has ever had a headache and goes from there to talk about the process which leads to drug discovery. Maggie particularly enjoys the ethical discussions which emerge from her presentations to the students, questions about clinical trials and the use of animals in research. She invites students to think about the suffering to be alleviated and to understand the entire ecosystem of research. She usually finds that one or two students have family members who have been impacted by Novartis’ research. Maggie always fits in a pitch for STEM careers, recalling her own career path from high school, where her father urged her to take as many science and math courses as she could, to her degrees in physics and chemistry from the Universities of Maryland and Wisconsin to Novartis.
Maggie is empathetic to students who may be “loud” or “lacking in attention” like herself, one reason she feels she can reach such students so readily. NetPal correspondence with Maggie can range from stories about the hard work of raising a new rescue puppy, to conversation about books she and her NetPal have read, to how math and scientific reasoning can be used in everyday life to identify variables, evaluate options, and reflect on the consequences of taking certain actions. In the process, Maggie imparts advice with a candid and humorous touch that students recognize as authentic caring.
We congratulate Maggie on her award and look forward to many more years of the connections she weaves between STEM and her students.