UC San Diego HS2TEM Equity Conference Inspires First Generation College-Bound Students

On May 5 at UC San Diego, approximately 100 9th and 10th graders from Morse High School in the San Diego Unified School District, Mar Vista High in the Sweetwater Union High School District, and Calexico High School in the Imperial Valley joined faculty, staff and students from UC San Diego in a “High School 2 STEM” equity conference. The event featured activities designed to expose youth to STEM research and to plan to get them academically and mentally prepared for STEM majors. This inaugural “HS2STEM” event was spearheaded by UC San Diego’s Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) in partnership with the Office of Admissions, as part of the CREATE STEM Success Initiative at UC San Diego. The event focused on encouraging college-bound, first-generation youth to pursue dreams of STEM careers – and to actually plan to get there.

Students started the day with a rousing welcome from Vice Chancellor Juan Gonzalez, who noted that “Lo que comienza aqui cambiara el mundo” (What starts here changes the world). “We’re talking about your audacious dreams,” Gonzalez said. “And we’re extending a hand to you to help you reach them — because you’re smart and you work hard.”







“We want you to feel like you could be here as part of the UC family some day – that you’re not just visiting for the day,” added Rafael Hernandez, EAOP’s director (above).

Students then broke into workshop sessions designed to share UC San Diego science and discuss the lives of UC San Diego student and professional scientists.

In a panel on the experience of being underrepresented in STEM – e.g., as women and people of color – a diverse group of students from PhD, Masters-level, and undergraduate science programs talked of their work to mitigate diabetes, develop drought-resistant grasses, and address metastasizing cancer. They urged the high school students to prepare to take advantage both of academic programming providing research internships, and of clubs and networks helping students link to others socially and “find people they connect with” once on a college campus.

One undergraduate (who had gone from a childhood in foster care to a research track at UC San Diego via community college) urged the high schoolers to always continue to “improve yourself as a full person,” by volunteering in their communities and taking the initiative to explore their interests. All the panelists urged their younger peers to believe resolutely in their own abilities.

Down the hall, a demonstration session on the science of dolphins with instructor Jim Rohr, outreach scientist at the National Marine Mammal Foundation (above), introduced students to some of the core physics questions operating underneath the ocean.

“Scientists think like you,” Jim said after a student offered an answer to a question about the pressure created by air. “They have a lot of the same questions and ideas. The difference is just that they have a lot of schooling, so they’re empowered to explore these things.”

In a resource fair area, UC San Diego undergraduate/graduate STEM students, student organizations, college/department representatives, resource centers and staff from campus organizations exposed the students to STEM activities and to the resources available on campus. High schoolers rotated between tables aiding them to make straw rockets and programming projects with the UC San Diego SACNAS & SHPE chapters, try virtual reality demos with VIVE undergraduates, see experiments and cool specimens provided by San Diego City College SACNAS students, and check out rocks with Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Earth Sciences.

In a workshop on admissions preparation led by Azizi James, students filled out UC planners for 10th grade coursework that would prepare them in all necessary areas for both UC admission and a STEM major. “Take all four years of science,” urged James. “Take all the years of math.” And, she urged, “become a leader in other activities in your school and community. Participate in sustained ways.”

The day ended with a visit to UC San Diego’s Birch Aquarium, with hands on immersion in UC San Diego-based science of the ocean. And 100 tired 9th and 10th graders – many of whom had awakened at 4 a.m. for a two-hour bus ride to campus — got back on their buses with audacious dreams.

For more information on the UC San Diego HS2TEM Conference, or for high school to college resources, contact EAOP Director Rafael Hernandez (rshernandez@ucsd.edu) or contact UC San Diego Undergraduate Admissions.