“Life is an experiment, cultivate the solution”, this is the CSU STEM VISTA slogan. If I told you that I completely understood this slogan when I first joined the CSU STEM VISTA team, I would be lying to you. However, my 6 months here at San Jose State University has turned a set of words into an accurate description of what I do as a CSU STEM VISTA at San Jose State University.
At San Jose State University, I have had an awesome opportunity to work on the Youth STEM Network program. The Youth STEM Network program works with several elementary schools around San Jose State University to provide them with hands-on activities and curriculum pertaining to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) topics. In the last 6 months, the Jay Pinson STEM education program at San Jose State has worked on developing computer science curriculum and implementing them at over 10 different afterschool sites. The results are over 1000 hours of instruction provided to 200 underrepresented youth. This amazing feat could not have been accomplished without ups and downs and this is where the CSU STEM VISTA slogan comes in.
When I implemented the curriculum at my first site, I assured myself that these were just elementary school kids and it would be a brief walk through the park. It would be simple. I thought, kids love computer science, they are going to listen intently and I’ll be done in an hour. This was my first mistake, assuming that they were just kids. When I walked into the door, I realized that I was surrounded by so many different cultures, backgrounds, upbringings, and intellects. I was out of touch with the kids, the curriculum I presented was not interesting, it was stale, and it was boring. In that moment, I realized that to successfully achieve my goal, I needed to adapt, to change to the different circumstances.
Over the course of a few months, I immersed myself in understanding the children. Each week, I would show up, learn their names and dive into their world. I learned what they liked to do in school and outside of school, what sparked their interest, what they were not keen about and what they absolutely hated. Minecraft, Instagram, and Kik became part of my vocabulary. After different trials, and gathering so much information about the children, I asked myself “what do I do with this information?” The answer was you use it to fuel your experiment, in other words, further improve the program. You constantly change; you tweak what didn’t work and keep what works until you have your results.
As I approach my seventh month as being a CSU STEM VISTA, I want to emphasize the importance of being immersed with the community you are working with. All the work that I have done could not have been achieved by sitting in front of my computer. Like an experiment, I had to go out into the field, be a part of the learning experience, come back into the office and cultivate the solutions.