vusd STEM Fest
Rafa the robotic giraffe at the Vista STEM Fest

Hundreds of Vista community members and families with kids in tow streamed into the Washington Middle School campus last Tuesday evening to experience STEM Fest, an evening of student inspiration, creativity and innovation centered around STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The brainchild of forward-thinking Vista Unified School District (VUSD) administrators and teacher leaders (especially Vista teachers Kellie Fleming and Trish Marapoti), STEM Fest was a district and community focused effort to build awareness of STEM education and careers in the Vista community by showcasing a vast array of student STEM projects and presentations. In addition, CREATE STEM Success Initiative program partners from UC San Diego were there to support the festival with exciting, hands-on learning activities.

STEM Fest visitors moved through the school gymnasium, touring student projects, viewing computer programming work and watching iPad-created movies.

STEM Fest outdoor projectsOutside, festival families met with science and engineering exhibitors, including those from UC San Diego. Professors, graduate students and CREATE staff were there to help kids and parents experience first-hand exciting STEM concepts such as sublimation, resonance and bioluminescence:

  • Director of Scripps Educational Alliances Cheryl Peach, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Project Scientist Debbie Zmarzly, and their crew of graduate students from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography helped children and adults make take-home souvenir necklaces containing tiny glowing algae from the sea. photo 1“The STEM Fest was a great experience for all of us,” said Peach (on left). “It’s gratifying to participate in an event like this when you get to interact with such terrific kids and parents – they were very engaged.”
  • Further down the concrete courtyard, Professor Adam Burgasser and his physics graduate students showed crowds of students and their families how and why matter can change directly from a solid to a gas state.
  • Others peered through UC San Diego’s physics department’s telescope to see first-hand Jupiter and two of its many moons.  Ooohs and aaahs arose from kids and grown-ups alike who had lined up single file to wait to glimpse the gas giant hundreds of millions of miles 2
  • UC San Diego’s CIAN (Center for Integrated Access Networks) optics graduate students, organized by Dominga Sanchez, engineering specialist for CREATE (center), enjoyed the laughter and excitement of kids as they peered through an infrared camera to see visions invisible to the human eye.
  • Dr. Jim Rohr, a UC San Diego “super” alumni and outreach director at SPAWAR, helped kids ponder the always intriguing question, “How would you fit a giraffe into a refrigerator?” in order to get kids to “think outside the box.”photo 4
  • Diane Lantz from UC San Diego Jacob’s School of Engineering’s COSMOS program and UC San Diego Admission Officer Jessica Rogers counseled Vista families exploring the 12-20 end of the STEM pipeline, providing information on STEM college majors, summer enrichment opportunities and other UC San Diego STEM programs. During STEM Fest, Diane and Jessica met the parents of a prospective UC San Diego student from Vista High who had formerly attended COSMOS. The student had just learned earlier in the week that he had been accepted into UC San Diego, through the university’s Admissions early calling campaign – a collaborative impact moment for all parties involved!
VUSD Superintendent Devin Vodicka with festival organizers Kellie Fleming and Trish Marapoti.

Vista Unified School District Superintendent Devin Vodicka and his cabinet members met with UC San Diego presenters before and during the event, and expressed thanks to UC San Diego for its help in making Vista’s launch into STEM a rousing success.  During the event itself, Superintendent Vodicka and his administrative team networked with UC San Diego faculty and staff, and just a few days later a partnership between VUSD and the San Diego Supercomputer Center’s new NSF STEM-C computer science principles grant proposal was born.

After the event Diane Lantz from COSMOS noted, “I felt the sincere interest of the Vista district leadership to get the STEM curriculum and opportunities at the forefront of their mission.”

The CREATE STEM Success Initiative at UC San Diego is dedicated to supporting collective campus-community efforts to promote and connect STEM learning in our region.