Written by Kyle Murray, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-2015
About 6 months ago, “stem” was something connected to roots and “service” and “learning” were rarely used in the same sentence, let alone connected by a hyphen. We must travel back in time for you to understand what is now my daily routine, Eat, Sleep, STEM, Repeat.
It was a hot July day in Fresno, which means eggs were frying on the pavement and people were fighting for that prime position next to the vent spilling out cool, refreshing air. During my college years I worked as an after school tutor and in summer youth programming. On this particular day, I was outside playing basketball with the 6th, 7th and 8th graders. In between tips on their jump shot and calling fouls, I noticed some excitement in the grassy area next to the basketball courts. I immediately made my way over to the group of kids huddled under the tree to see what all the fuss was about. The students were excitedly preparing to launch their water rockets and with the launch of that first rocket propelling the plastic 2-liter 30 feet in the air, I saw the kids’ interest in the awesomeness that is science launch with it. As I walked back over to the basketball courts, something clicked, for many of the kids at this camp it was their first time experiencing the sciences and I believe because of the real, hands-on components they were thrilled and couldn’t wait to come back the next day and learn more the next day.
Two weeks later, I was on a plane to Los Angeles for my first training as a CSU STEM VISTA member.
Currently, the semester is winding down. The campus is getting ready for winter break, students are looking forward to their new classes in the spring, and I am excited to continue my involvement in 3 outreach programs promoting STEM education. As the CSU STEM VISTA member serving in Fresno State’s College of Science and Math Advising Resource Center, I have the opportunity to promote STEM service learning and help college students get involved in a variety of K-12 STEM outreach programs, many of which are sponsored by my office.
One of my favorite outreach activities is Lecturer Don Williams’ Physics 168S class which provides science majors and future teachers a hands-on experience demonstrating physics in K-12 schools, the Children’s Hospital, and centers for youth with autism. The class highlights best practices based on education research, theories of science instruction, and core concepts in physics in a service-learning environment. I have had the privilege to attend a few of these class sessions and let me say, if you are struggling to get youth excited about science, Don’s presentation has kids spending recess inside playing with linear and rotational momentum concepts and dreaming of the day they can get their hands on some liquid nitrogen.
But the true beauty of the physics outreach course is that it benefits all parties involved. The college students gain direct experience teaching science, and they can implement these practices in their future careers as educators. The youth are inspired to study physics and chemistry and are exposed to the cool applications of science that is not often conveyed in the traditional text books. And lastly, the teachers and administration of the K-12 schools are inspired to develop new teaching methods to sustain the newfound excitement for science in their classrooms. (I am developing a short video to promote this program and hopefully will be able to share it soon!)
Next semester I will be responsible college student recruitment for Stellar Science and Circuit Science, essentially mini science camps, in which K-12 students take a field trip to Fresno State and work with college student volunteers on a variety of experiments and science related demonstrations. These programs target schools that lack a science focus in their curriculum, typically rural schools. Often our program is the first time the students have been exposed to scientific concepts and it is exciting to see that the K-12 students share the same enthusiasm as the college students running the stations. One of my major tasks is to look for funding resources to further develop the program and increase the number of students served.
Through my experiences in after school programs, youth summer programs, and now as a CSU STEM VISTA, I have seen that the key to inspiring youth to pursue STEM degrees begins with the student’s first interaction with science in a school setting. Illustrating the applications of science through demonstration is a surefire way to spark interest in the STEM fields as opposed to traditional text book lectures. This can happen at any age; in some cases someone won’t develop an interest in STEM until they are a college graduate working at a youth summer camp and get to see first-hand what science can do for a child’s interest in learning. Whenever it may occur, inspiring someone’s interest in a STEM field can change their life and their educational career.
Now, Eat, Sleep, STEM, Repeat is a daily regiment I follow to ensure I am doing my part to promote STEM education in the community as well as student involvement with service-learning opportunities on campus.