Written by Silver Delgado, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, CSULA Physics and Astronomy Department
Working as a VISTA in the Physics Department at the new, rebranded Cal State LA I have learned how relationships are strengthened and maintained over time.
The University is going in a new direction with a new president, and his
goals are to reconnect with alumni to create a community and a support network for current students, rather than just having an alumni mailing list. In the recent months, the school has hosted its first ever reunion class of the 50s, also called the Billy Jean event. Through this reunion a substantial number of alumni renewed old friendships and made new ones. With great change comes great opportunity, and I am happy to be a part of it.
Expanding and reengaging Cal State LA’s alumni network opens the door to establishing new internship opportunities for our students. Many industries are looking to hire students with not only outstanding academic histories, but also job experience in the form of internships. It is important that our students can find jobs after they graduate, so this seems like a worthwhile venture. In the beginning of my year of service, however, I was told that some of the faculty were worried that their students might not even be interested in internships. In response, I made survey to answer that question. Of the 30 physics students, 10 of them took the survey, and 100% stated that they would love to have more internship opportunities. (The survey is still on going until the end of the winter break.) With this in mind, we will be asking our alumni to host internship opportunities for the students in the department.
In order to ensure more secure internship opportunities we are planning to create both an alumni group and an advisory Board for the department. To make this a reality, I have been contacting physics and astronomy alumni from Cal State LA. Once we have core members for the alumni group I will see if they can assist me in contacting their fellow alumni, since the school’s alumni association didn’t have a reliable list of contact information. This is because most students don’t give their contact information once they leave the school.
After gathering a few alumni, I am planning to ask some to join the physics advisory board. Now, the goals for the advisory board are more business-oriented. This board will provide input on how courses can be changed to better prepare students for a life in industry. They will also assist the department by providing internship opportunities for the students. Currently, I am working with the Engineering Department, since they have a great advisory board, which provides me with new insight on how to approach certain topics and organizations. Collaborating with the Director of Development of Natural Sciences and my supervisors, I have made connections with a few industry key players at JPL, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. In time, I will ask them to join the departments’ advisory board and further the advancement of the Physics Department. Now, the second half of my project is to create the same kinds of internship experiences with a local high school.
The local high school, Abraham Lincoln High School, recently had a career fair, and the Physics Department was asked to participate. Due to scheduling conflicts, most of the faculty and staff could not attend, so they asked me to represent the department. The career fair was a great experience to see how students truly feel about physics as a degree or career choice. Students were instantly disgusted by the thought of more math problems to do. I instantly knew that students needed to be aware that basic calculus should not bring about nasty thoughts but inspirational ones, instead.
At the career fair, I also learned that polite communication can lead to more personal relationships with companies. It was there that I ran into a UPP (University Preparatory Program) alumnus who I was trying to get in contact with, anyway. I was introduced myself and talked with him about what I’m trying to accomplish, including creating partnerships with alumni of the UPP program at Lincoln High School. With the help from alumni the program can offer better internship opportunities and lead the students towards careers in the STEM fields. This particular alum has been working with large corporations such as JPL and Boeing. After a long discussion, he agreed to be a part of the alumni group and provide internship opportunities for the school.
With a growing alumni network, I am also working on creating a Facebook group so that physics alums can come to the page to share their thoughts instead of sending numerous emails. This project was inspired by an alum who said he’d rather see opportunities to participate appear on his Facebook feed rather than in his inbox. He also thought the creation of a page would help conveniently gather all the alumni.
I look forward to continuing to cultivate relationships with Cal State LA physics graduates and applying what I’ve learned about community building to other projects in the future.