Written By Tiffany Nguyen, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, Cal Poly Pomona Maximizing Engineering Potential
I have been working with the engineering students of Maximizing Engineering Potential (MEP) and one thing is for sure: it was a rocky start going into my year of service as a VISTA.
Over the summer I was put in charge of Engineering Girls: It Takes a Village, a week-long residential program for 20 girls (ages 7-14) from a local homeless shelter. Our goal was to spark their interest in engineering by immersing them into a college community where they can experience the life of a student, from eating in the dining commons to being hands-on in the engineering labs. I, along with 4 summer associates, extensively planned for the week by scheduling dorm rooms, contacting faculty, purchasing supplies, etc. It was the first program of its kind here at Cal Poly Pomona and we planned to be flexible, but I was still overwhelmed with everything that came up. Every day was spent trying to calm the overexcited girls during the activities. When a faculty member suddenly cancelled their workshop last minute, I scrambled trying to find something to fill the 2-hour gap. Variations in the weather had the girls complaining about too much walking in the heat and the rain postponing our outdoor activities. With each day came an unexpected kink in the schedule and with all of the last minute changes, I started questioning if the girls were getting the most out of their time here.
Saturday was the 6th and last day of the event. By then, I was ready for the long week to be over and the only activity left for us to do was a “graduation ceremony” where the girls prepared a short speech to present to the staff and family members. Their speeches mentioned how much they enjoyed their time on campus; they listed out their favorite activities- learning about rockets, building newspaper roller coasters, doing arts and crafts- but most importantly they spoke about how one day they would attend Cal Poly Pomona as a student and become an engineer. It was here that I realized the full impact of this program. The success of this event relied on more than a perfectly executed schedule; it took the work of alumni and students who volunteered to be RAs and workshop facilitators, the Farm Store to hand out snacks and treats, University Housing to donate an entire room-full of clothes, Southern California Edison to assemble and give away backpacks filled with supplies, and other campus organizations who contributed their time and services to these girls. It took a village.
As I continue my work with the first-generation college students of MEP, there will be days that are longer than others. But if I learned anything from my event over the summer, it is that it takes time and patience in order to witness the fruits of your labor. With CSU STEM VISTA, there will be obstacles: financial instability, a misunderstanding of your position, navigating a new work environment, and others. It can be tempting to question your work after a task was not perfectly executed or a schedule did not go as exactly as planned, but the efforts community service and higher education will always be worthwhile when the ultimate goal is to provide opportunities for others to succeed. I had an incredible learning
experience with Engineering Girls: It Takes a Village as my first coordinated event and I look forward to the impact that I will make during the rest of my year.
To instill an interest in engineering to 20 girls (and go through one roller coaster of a week), it takes a village. To make a difference and provide opportunities for all through STEM education and community engagement, it takes CSU STEM VISTA.