STEM Academy Piques Interest of Next Generation of Students
By Bradi Zapata
Eager with anticipation, 19 high school students stepped foot onto Cal State San Marcos with hopes of meeting new friends, learning about a school they could one day call their home, and furthering an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The inaugural STEM IDEA Academy, a five-day overnight summer camp, hosted by the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and the Women & Gender Equity Center, built a robust pathway for these connections.
From June 26-30, the schedule was jam-packed with activities intended to pique an interest in STEM fields, challenge thought-processes, instill a sense of leadership and demonstrate how beautifully applicable STEM is to everyday life.
Among the activities, students tasted complex chemistry in the beloved dessert, chocolate; visualized complex notes strummed on a guitar through electrical engineering; saw the vibrant oil paint strokes of the Mona Lisa, which has been hanging in the Louvre Museum in France since 1804, from a virtual reality headset in Markstein Hall; and learned how to cast their own fingerprints from an active FBI special agent.
During the fan-favorite activity, the students were divided into four groups where they crafted a boat out of broken-down cardboard boxes and duct tape, using the mathematics and physics methods of their choice. With their horizontal rafts, house-shaped boats, and square-tipped oars in hand, one camper from each team bravely sat in their submerged boat and raced to see which boat was durable enough to reach the end of the University Village Apartment pool.
“Aha moments” of realization also struck the faces of many campers during Math Magic, a special activity led by mathematics professor Hanson Smith. Smith utilized chalk on campus walkways to push the perception of the subject. Without using any numbers or formulas, students created their own geometric designs and patterns. Many were surprised at the fun they had when vague instructions provided a new freedom for math exploration.
“I really found Math Magic interesting [because] it gave me a new perspective on math,” said Emilee Thipphavong, STEM IDEA Academy student. “Typically, when you think about math, you think about numbers but in actuality, a really broad definition of math is that it’s the study of patterns; it really doesn’t have to include numbers at all.”
On Wednesday, June 28, the group also went on a special field trip to program sponsor, Encodia, Inc., a biotechnology company located in San Diego.
Encodia was honored for the opportunity to be the founding member of this academy, as it aligns with their corporate mission to Unlimit Biology. During the field trip, the campers shadowed scientists at interactive demos covering oligo synthesis, peptide synthesis, mass spectrometry, engineering, automation and next-generation sequencing.
“A huge highlight of the event for me was the sheer excitement the students showed when they put on lab coats for the first time and they had a glimpse of their future selves as scientists,” said Samantha Beasley, senior scientist at Encodia and CSUSM alumna.
“It was an honor to inspire these high school students to visualize their future in STEM, and, as a bonus, to even consider CSUSM as the starting point of that journey. Being able to form this partnership with CSUSM was so important to me as both a CSUSM alumna and a fellow female in STEM, because CSUSM was such a strong foundational point in my STEM career development. I would not be where I am today without the amazing faculty there and the great courses they offered.”
Much like CSTEM, Encodia strives to enlighten and support accessibility to STEM and encourage diversity as a key to driving discoveries. STEM IDEA Academy was indeed designed to follow the mission of increasing diversity by empowering all genders to feel welcome in STEM disciplines.
"The success of the program is attributed to many STEM faculty, students, and staff who set aside time from their busy schedule to interact with the participants, many of whom are to become the first in their families to attend college,” said Youwen Ouyang, a professor in the department of computer science and information systems who led the planning and implementation of STEM IDEA Academy.
“Their kindness and encouragement towards the participants are strong testimonies of our campus’ dedication to helping students thrive.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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