Professor's Grants Will Open More Doors to Science
By Brian Hiro
Ed Price pursued physics as a discipline because he views science and technology as a beautiful way to better understand the world around us.
Price also believes that kind of knowledge should be available to everyone, not just people – like him – who were fortunate enough to attend elite academic institutions. And he has dedicated a significant portion of his career to increasing access to scientific education.
Now, the Cal State San Marcos physics professor has received not one, but two grants that will further this longstanding effort.
The first is a five-year, $1.49 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will extend and expand CSUSM’s Mobile Making program, through which undergraduates in STEM majors are dispatched to local middle schools to deliver science lessons to mostly underrepresented students.
The second is a three-year, $480,000 grant from NASA to create an “aerospace academy” for local high school students, many of them from low-income backgrounds.
Both programs will operate through the Center for Research and Engagement in STEM Education (CRESE), for which Price is the faculty director and co-founder.
“Working in our community and working with students to whom these opportunities historically have been denied, that’s something that’s really important to me,” Price said. “And one of the things I love about being here at Cal State San Marcos is that we’re in a great position to do something about that.”
The NSF grant builds on a similar one that CSUSM received five years ago that established CRESE and the Mobile Making program. The new grant continues the practice of sending so-called STEM ambassadors into local schools to lead science experiments and other projects during after-school periods. But the additional funding will allow CSUSM to more than double (to about 30) the number of middle schools and upper elementary grades that it reaches, including in more remote school districts like Oceanside, Fallbrook and Bonsall.
As part of the grant to CSUSM, the NSF also awarded money to start up Mobile Making programs at three other California State University campuses – Fresno, Long Beach and San Luis Obispo – and Price and his team will assist with the launching of those initiatives this fall and spring. And the CSU Chancellor’s Office will help disseminate the results as a means of encouraging other campuses to adopt the program as well.
“We've learned a lot about how to make this work, and I think we have a good model,” Price said. “It's proven to the point that it does make sense for other places to try it. The things that make it work here, like the power of our campus as a regional institution, that's true of a lot of CSUs, and I think that there's no reason that this wouldn't work in other places.”
A co-principal investigator for the grant is Sinem Siyahhan, a professor in the School of Education. For many years, Siyahhan has run a program in which undergraduate students planning to pursue a teaching credential fan out to after-school sessions to organize activities with kids. During the pandemic, Siyahhan and Price merged their programs, and now the STEM ambassadors are accompanied on their outings by future teachers. In all, hundreds of CSUSM students will participate in the Mobile Making program during each of the next five years.
The NASA grant was secured by Price in collaboration with Gerardo Dominguez, a fellow physics professor. CSUSM was one of only eight institutions nationwide that received a total of $3.8 million in Minority University Research and Education (MUREP) awards for the MUREP Aerospace Academy (MAA).
CSUSM’s version of this academy involves a partnership with four area high schools: San Marcos and Mission Hills in San Marcos and San Pasqual and Orange Glen in Escondido. For each of the next three years, a group of STEM majors from CSUSM will work with about 25 students from each of the sites (about 100 total) on a year-long set of activities around a common theme. The experience will culminate in a summer capstone project in which NASA will present students with a challenge problem that they will have to develop a solution for.
The theme for this school year is lunar exploration.
“There will be a whole bunch of things we'll do to think about how you design a vehicle that can travel on a lunar surface,” Price said. “What goes into that? What's some of the science that we know about the moon and about the kind of terrain and conditions you'd find there, and how do you take that into account?
“The idea of an academy is a multifaceted and a long-term experience for these kids. A lot of times kids will have opportunities to do one-off things, and that can be great. But I think something that's sustained like this over time is going to be a meaningful experience for these students.”
Price and Dominguez have several partners on the MAA program, including CSUSM’s National Latino Research Center to work with families of the high school students on college readiness, Carlsbad-based Nordson, Palomar College and a NASA-funded research collaboration called ICE Five-O (of which Dominguez is a member).
“The approach we take at CRESE is really about leveraging the strengths of our students, our relationships with the community, building off of that,” Price said. “That's the theme in both of these programs. They're both about giving our youth in the community a chance to engage in science and have early and successful experiences with that.”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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