Southeast San Diego Science and Art Expo

By Maya Wu, Valeria Rodriguez, Yanet Lopez & Beto Vasquez 

The Southeast San Diego Science and Art Expo held on Saturday, August 14, 2021, was the brainchild of the Southeast San Diego STEM Ecosystem and Alberto “Beto” Vasquez, community outreach and engagement coordinator for the CREATE STEM Success Initiative (CSSI), an initiative supported by UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE).

With the support from various partners, the inaugural Science and Art Expo was held at the Malcolm X/Valencia Park Branch Library in Southeast San Diego and provided a free, family-friendly atmosphere for students and their families to experience the “science of the world around us.” The CSSI, funded by UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, believes that all individuals should have equal access and opportunities to contribute to our nation’s ability to remain globally competitive. Increasing diversity in science is vital as it impacts innovation and advancement and can provide opportunities to combat social disparities/injustices. Therefore, UC San Diego CREATE is committed to supporting and serving underrepresented students and families in order to improve their access to STEM education.

This summer, thanks to support from San Diego Unified School District’s Level Up SD- A Summer of Learning and Joy program, the San Diego Foundation and DoDSTEM, close to 700 children and adults enjoyed a day of culturally relevant and engaging interactive demonstrations featuring more than 40 STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) organizations at the Southeast San Diego Science and Art Expo.

Demonstrations and hands-on activities included live reptile exhibits from EcoVivarium, live science performances from Mad Science, lowrider hydraulic demos from Viejitos and Classic Car Clubs, a “cool” show (using demos with sub-zero temperatures) from General Atomics, optical illusions from the Fleet Science Center, and silk screen printing by Cali Creations! Attendees also learned about culturally-connected science by learning about the biology, chemistry and physics of tortillas (which they got to make and eat!) as well as the engineering and physics of lowriders!

In addition to the expo itself, which provided a variety of activities, microscopes, giveaways and opportunity drawings, attendees were also able to take advantage of tours of the Legler Benbough Teen IDEALab located at the Malcolm X Library and the iconic Elementary Institute of Science (EIS) building located on the corner of Market Street and Euclid Avenue. Such tours were made available to inform and connect residents to local resources that might otherwise get overlooked. As a Level Up SD program, we were also excited to host a Student Symposium that showcased STEAM-related projects completed by Level Up summer program participants. We also collaborated with other summer program providers like the Blue Heart Foundation, who hosted a drone demonstration showcasing their student’s navigation and coding skills alongside presentations that also acted as their capstone projects.

Families were also invited to a complimentary lunch provided by MaBella’s Filipino Kitchen, the Write Juice Truck and Pipe’s Grills on Wheels. So you can only imagine the indulgent atmosphere created by the smells of delicious food, laughter, awe and curiosity as attendees explored this unique event! 

Southeast San Diego STEM Ecosystem

The event demonstrated how the Southeast San Diego community is able to locate, and connect to, relevant STEM learning opportunities.

The Southeast San Diego STEM Ecosystem, an exhibiting partner, represents a neighborhood-focused working group of partners dedicated to expanding access to STEM learning opportunities through a collective impact approach. As an example, through this event, the Southeast STEM Ecosystem was able to make a difference by supporting the Perez family, who recently immigrated to the U.S. from Baja California, Mexico. New to the region, the family approached the Ecosystem table in search of San Diego-based coding organizations that could continue to foster their son’s advanced coding skills. Their son, Owen, a local eighth grader, possesses incredible talent in the realm of coding and most recently ranked fourth in his age division at major Mexican coding competitions. The Perez family was concerned that Owen’s coding abilities and aspirations would suffer as a result of their relocation. Fortunately, the Ecosystem team was able to personally connect the Perez family to the League of Amazing Programmers, a  SESD STEM Ecosystem partner, focused on coding programs and pathways for youth. As a result, Owen is looking forward to working with the League’s bilingual instructors who will be supporting his learning of  C++ and Java programming languages. This is one of the ways that neighborhood networks such as this can make a difference!

Who made this Possible

Anchoring the event were UC San Diego faculty, organizations, and undergraduate students, along with community college student groups, who shared their knowledge – and their enthusiasm – about STEM at booths and tables. Using hands-on, highly interactive demonstrations, students from local community colleges and surrounding universities explained (in both English and Spanish) the science behind day-to-day phenomena to the hundreds of families in attendance.

“The Southeast San Diego Science & Art Expo provided a fantastic entry point for UC San Diego to share STEM resources and knowledge, with collaboration with our community and exhibitor partners,” Vasquez noted. “The Southeast STEM Ecosystem, CREATE STEM Success Initiative, and our sponsors are committed to inspiring the next generation of STEM researchers and professionals who will create tomorrow’s innovations and scientific breakthroughs.” 

Without the support of our community, this event, which fused together science, art, and culture, would not have been possible. It was only with the support of all exhibitors like UC San Diego’s Bioengineering (Dr. Ester Kwon Lab), Department of Physics & Astronomy (Dr. Adam Burgasser Lab), & Dr. Victor Minces (Science of Sound), as well as the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department, Nosotros Alumni, RoboThink CV, General Atomics (DIII-D National Fusion Facility), County of San Diego Vector Control Program, Treobytes, Mundo Gardens, the Fleet Science Center and many others, that we could lessen apprehension about STEM, and remind the community of how much science we interact with daily. Of course, we were only able to bring this vision to fruition through the generous support of the San Diego Foundation, San Diego Unified School District, DoDSTEM, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, and our volunteers. 

In closing and in the spirit of acknowledging the value of “community” in a place as special as Southeast San Diego, we would also like to give a warm shout out and thank you to Roosevelt Williams III from Young Black & ’N Business for being a most gracious emcee, DJ Wicho for providing the soundtrack for such a beautiful afternoon, Beto Perez from Jam’n 95.7, Malcolm X Library – San Diego Public Libraries, Elevated Classrooms, Science Delivered, Tiffany (from Councilmember Montgomery-Steppe’s office) and our gracious volunteers (from the community, CREATE and OFFERS) for their involvement and support. It is important that we, as a community, city, state, and world facilitate the spread of opportunity and resources so that they are equally available to everyone. Thank you once again, and be sure to plan your visit to the 2022 Southeast San Diego Science and Art Expo!