Written by JT Stoner, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16 Sacramento State University Commit to Study
For the past 11 months, I have served as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) at California State University, Sacramento (a.k.a Sac State). The overarching goal of my VISTA year has been to coordinate new partnerships and opportunities for college students to do K-12 outreach and encourage younger generations to pursue their interests in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. We believe that providing students with opportunities to give back to their community promotes a cycle of service that if continued in the future will not only help future generations succeed in their STEM pursuits, but also inspires them to reach back into their communities as well.
Without a doubt, one of the single greatest opportunities I had this year was the opportunity to organize a 4-hour campus visit for ~50 5th and 7th graders from Sol Aureus Preparatory (SAC Prep) School. I started off the day by giving a brief presentation on the most popular STEM majors at Sac State and what careers students could pursue with those degrees post-graduation. We also talked about what they could do right now to help them prepare for the future (e.g. developing good study habits, taking extra science and math classes, talking to their family members, teachers, coaches, and their peers about what they want to do when they graduate high school, and reaching out to college students and staff members). To my relief, the presentation was super interactive and the students seemed genuinely interested! Fortunately for me, many of these students already wanted to pursue careers in STEM fields (e.g. doctors and nurses, mathematicians, computer technicians and engineers, forensic scientists, etc.).
Next I organized a short panel discussion with three college students who are currently pursuing STEM degrees at Sac State. After having these students introduce themselves and their future career goals, we spent some time talking about what it is like to be a STEM student at Sac State and what programs exist to help STEM students succeed (e.g. peer-assisted learning, also called PAL, courses). We also talked about the various clubs, sports, and volunteering opportunities available at Sac State because college isn’t JUST about academics. It is also about taking advantage of your opportunities, networking to make friends and future colleagues, and growing both personally and professionally. Again, to my surprise, the students were very engaged in the panel discussion and asked a lot of great questions about STEM and college in general.
After the panel discussion, I planned for the students to have interactive presentations and tours lead by students and staff from the Biology Department. First, they met with Greenhouse workers who organized a “show and tell” with various carnivorous plant species. The students then spent some time with another staff member who talked about various vertebrate species and who allow them to explore a room on campus full of taxidermy eggs and animals. Finally, the students met with student volunteers and staff members who maintain the live animal enclosures. Here the students had a chance to hold some animals (e.g. stick-bugs, turtles, snakes, and a bearded dragon) while they learned about these and many other species.
By the end of the interactive sessions we were all hungry, so we went over to the Student Union where I had reserved outdoor seating and pre-ordered pizza. Students who didn’t want pizza and brought money were escorted elsewhere on campus to get lunch, but met up with us afterwards. I even escorted some of the students to the on-campus convenience store where they could get souvenirs and snacks if they wanted to. I really appreciated the lunch break because it gave me a chance to casually chat with the students about their interests and share some of my insights.
To end the day, we went on a tour of the most popular places at Sac State led by student tour guides from Admissions and Outreach. The students really seemed to enjoy walking through and learning about the Library, the AIRC where many students meet up with their peers to do homework/projects, and The Well which is a two-story complex that houses an indoor track and soccer arena, all the gym equipment, and a rock climbing wall as well as a pharmacy and other services for mental and physical wellness. After the campus tour, I walked the students back to their bus, so they could head back to their school. I was relieved the day had gone by so smoothly and very happy to see and hear how pleased the students and staff from SAC Prep really were. Even some of the college student volunteers who helped out throughout the day expressed their gratitude and offered to help out with similar events in the future!
Coordinating this campus visit was the highlight of my VISTA experience because I saw myself achieve the goal I initially set: Creating opportunities that allow college students to give back to their communities and encourage younger generations to pursue their interests in STEM fields. Furthermore, seeing looks of genuine intrigue and excitement on each student’s face throughout the day, was more than enough confirmation that the work I have been doing this year is making a difference and is appreciated!
As I finish my last month of service, I know that all that I have done to promote a Cycle of STEM Outreach and Service at Sac State will be continued. I am so thankful to have become a VISTA, to have had these opportunities, and to impact as well as be impacted by so many wonderful students, staff, and volunteers.