noche de ciencia

By Beto Vasquez, K-14 science outreach coordinator, CREATE STEM Success Initiative

Science Night or Noche de Ciencia at Sherman Elementary was a huge success! CREATE was elated to partner with Sherman’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in coordinating an evening full of fun interaction and science for students, family and friends! The blacktop and auditorium were bustling in January as more than 250 attendees swarmed to the elementary school to interact with various student, institutional and community groups committed to enlightening young minds about the omnipresence of science in their everyday lives.

Sherman Elementary, which is primarily recognized for their robust bilingual program, would like to equally bolster family engagement and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Mathematics (STEAM) opportunities for their kids. Science Night or Noche de Ciencia was designed to be a fun and interactive evening of STEAM exploration and discovery for students of all ages and their families.

The event took place in the community of Sherman Heights, one of San Diego’s predominantly Latino neighborhoods. It was a testament to what can be accomplished when community members rally together to address the disparities in STEM diversity and the need to provide adequate exposure opportunities and exploration of career paths in STEM at an early age. Although this was not an all-day event, the two-hour science night was transformative in nature as it provided a myriad of opportunities to become a scientist for the night – looking through microscopes, writing code for robots and gazing at the constellations through high-powered telescopes.

Noche de Ciencia was opened to the surrounding community for all to experience. Not surprisingly, the air was filled with the sweet smell of hot chocolate and churros and the sounds of “ahh” and “whoa” as both children and parents were continually mesmerized. Comments like, “that’s so cool!” and “science is so much fun!” seemed to echo throughout the course of the evening, and rightfully so! The evening was designed to provide hands-on learning opportunities and activities to increase students’ sense of belonging and validation, reduce apprehensions (by making it fun!) and promoting STEM career pathway exploration.

Indoors, among the decorated auditorium teeming with 5th grader solar system model projects, students conducted experiments and investigations under the direction of Indira Jimenez, Jacqueline Lagunas-Ramos, Julian Alcantar, Rick Lopez, Shawn Moore and Mia Zedokes, volunteers from UC San Diego and San Diego City College.  Kids viewed live demonstrations by volunteers Deborah Scipione, a “cool” teacher who captivated the audience with the mysteries of dry ice and Deborah Gardner, a recent UC San Diego graduate who brought her family with her to help students make paper rockets.

Participants who gathered at the Gardening Club’s table flipped through books at the book sale as they made way to the Robothink table. Here, students tinkered with smaller lego-type robots. San Diego City College’s SACNAS Chapter conducted physics and chemistry demonstrations and provided a table with biological specimens that wowed the crowd!

Overall, Science Night is a successful forum where young students meet inspiring college-age volunteers. These volunteers are mostly first-generation college students underrepresented in STEM. Most importantly, the students can relate to the volunteers! STEM professionals were also on hand to share their personal and professional experiences with students. Attendees learned about exciting career paths in forensics, environmental biology, astronomy, video game programming and robotics – to name a few.

In one large section of the room, National University’s NuBotX team was out in full force with a large pen of autonomous vehicles and a panel of computers and monitors. This predominantly female team was instrumental in providing a coding and robotics experience for attendees.

CREATE contributed its expertise in STEM education while connecting campus student organizations and neighboring institutions to join in this special event. After all, increasing diversity in STEAM and preparing our future generations for success benefits everyone!

CREATE’s very own Kathryn Schulz, director of the San Diego Science Project, led the charge by teaching fundamental concepts of engineering planning, design and development with a barge-building experience. Likewise, CREATE STEM Success Initiative staff and San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE) auto tech instructor, Frank Vasquez, teamed up to conduct their “Science of Cars” demonstration that showcases the everyday science that is all around us….

Outside, away from the light pollution and in the middle of a dark blacktop, a long line of students and their families waited for professionals from the San Diego Astronomy Association to provide an ample chance to be one with the constellations and reach for the stars with their high-powered telescopes.

A little closer to the center of the action, staff from SDCOE’s Splash Mobile (a large RV equipped with microscopes and armed with environmental education!) greeted attendees as they spilled out from the auditorium, directing them to one of their six water science stations focused on minimizing environmental impacts on our local watersheds.

The Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) was established in 1997 as UC San Diego’s entity to support local K-12 outreach and college preparation efforts, specifically for students too often underrepresented in college. Twenty years later, the charge to marshal campus resources towards support of K-12 (and community college) students and teachers in the San Diego region continues. Events like these allow us to focus on supporting K-12 schools and systems, while also supporting community college and UC San Diego colleagues to work collaboratively and design innovative outreach and education programming to meet local education needs and foster the growth of undergraduate students. Our goal is to continue leveraging UC San Diego’s resources to support the college and career preparation of students and teachers throughout the region. We are committed to equity.

Special thanks to the staff and PTA of Sherman Elementary, the gracious volunteers, and all the contributing groups and individuals that helped make Science Night possible for their generosity of time and support. Additional thanks to the student volunteers from San Diego City College, City College’s SACNAS Chapter San Diego, UC San Diego and National University for sacrificing their time and serving as great mentors for these wide-eyed youth.

For more information and to schedule a Noche de Ciencia for your school or organization, contact Beto Vasquez at alv002@UCSD.EDU.