By Jim Rohr & Veronica Lopez, Coordinators for Noche de la Ciencia y la Ingeniería en Español (supported by CREATE)

CREATE has recently partnered in a pilot project called Noche de la Ciencia y la Ingeniería en Español (Night of Science and Engineering in Spanish). Through the help of the community and financial support from Building Engineers and Science Talent (BEST), four events have been held over the last 6 months at locations throughout San Diego: Southwest Middle School, the Barrio Logan College Institute, The Preuss School at UC San Diego, and Castle Park Middle School. The events include science demonstrations, hands-on activities, panel discussions, and motivational talks from local  professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and university students pursuing those degrees – presented entirely in Spanish.

In addition to providing inspiration to students, an equally important goal of this event is to provide information to Spanish speaking parents on how they can support their children in pursuing STEM careers.

Think about it: Last summer, millions of Americans were transfixed in front of their TV screens watching the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.  As long as most of us can   remember, the U.S. has always ranked at or near the top in number of medals garnered. Could you begin to imagine the indignation that would follow if our world ranking fell to 17th or 24th?  And yet, that is precisely where our high school students respectively rank internationally in science and math. We also rank 27th (out of 29) for the rate of STEM degrees awarded in developed countries.

A recent article in Forbes magazine states that while unemployment in the U.S. is at its highest level since the mid-80’s, there are several million jobs in our country that are presently available and waiting to be filled in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Exacerbating this need is the large number of current STEM professionals expected to retire in the near future.  In the Department of Defense community alone, more than 30% of current STEM professionals are expected to retire by 2020. To address this widening gap between STEM demand and supply, we must draw from all parts of our community, particularly those underrepresented in STEM professions.

To date, the success of the pilot events have exceeded expectations and there have been numerous requests to for the project to continue and grow. Also growing is the list of bilingual volunteers – students from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), San Diego State University, City College, and scores of STEM professionals from across the navy.

On January 26, for example, the 3rd bilingual Spanish day event “Dia de la Ciencia y la Ingeniería en Español” was held at The Preuss School UCSD.  Science and Engineering hands-on activities were in Spanish to provide an environment for Spanish-speaking families to learn and discuss STEM.  Approximately 35 students, 50 parents, 25 students from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers from UCSD, 11 STEM professionals from SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, and Scott Barton, the principal of Preuss, were in attendance. Veronica Lopez and Alex Melgoza, UCSD students, were responsible for organizing this event. ¡STEM en Español!