Ready to level up San Diego?

Just ask the students from San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) who participated in OFFERS STEM Camp 2022: Opportunities for Future Engineers, Researchers, and Scientists, brought to the Southeastern San Diego STEM Ecosystem by UC San Diego CREATE’s leadership and oversight. 

After an incredible inaugural summer 2021, the San Diego Foundation brought back Level Up SD Summer 2022, a reimagined learning experience with extraordinary academic and enrichment programming for San Diego Unified students. Since remote education and work have shifted the student, teacher, and family experience, there has been increased demand for expanded learning opportunities to create happier children, reduce the achievement gap, and provide childcare support for San Diego families.

With the support and leadership of the San Diego Foundation, SDUSD’s Level Up SD initiative, local community members & organizations, over 88 local organizations (including CREATE) were provided with the necessary resources to host free summer camps for SDUSD students. As such, a robust list of free student experiential learning experiences was made accessible to over 100,000 students and families served by the second largest district in California – SDUSD. Camps offered a variety of topics including music, outdoor recreation, science, technology, engineering, math, art, sports, and many other innovative experiences.

Amongst great company, UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) and the Southeast San Diego STEM Ecosystem were busy hosting a series of week-long equity-minded camps at Logan Memorial Education Campus (LMEC), serving over 30 students each week in Logan Heights! CREATE is a 20+ year old center at UC San Diego committed to providing equitable educational opportunities for all and the Southeast San Diego STEM Ecosystem represents a neighborhood-focused working group of STEM-engaged partners dedicated to expanding access to STEM learning opportunities through a collective impact approach. Together, they created the Opportunities for Future Engineers, Researchers, and Scientists (OFFERS) STEM Camps under the direction of Dr. Beto Vasquez. Recognizing the importance of STEM exposure at an early age – the in-person camps were designed for 3rd through 5th graders, and focused on getting students excited, engaged and comfortable with learning that anyone can be a scientist or engineer!

Inclusive Culture of Belonging

To ensure STEM Campers were supported and their needs were met, OFFERS expanded their team this summer with even more staff members for an exceptional student : staff ratio of 2:1!  OFFERS team members were hand-selected by CREATE leadership to purposefully represent a diverse range of generational, social, professional, and cultural backgrounds. The OFFERS summer team was led by Jasmine Sadler and was composed of five core staff (teachers: Patty Cuevas & Monica Lopez, TA’s: Xavier Vasquez : Dree Berry, and, Natasha Acosta, our Intern PD Coordinator) , 12 high school interns (part of another summer program aimed at preparing tomorrow’s workforce), and six junior high students who volunteered their time during the summer. The team was dedicated and committed to OFFERS’ mission from the beginning, and their skills elevated with leadership, STEM education, communications, and cultural-responsiveness training. While many of the core team members already had experience with youth programming, our younger staff members learned new professional skills through their various roles. The team worked professionally and creatively amongst colleagues and school site staff to best support the program and created an educational environment for camp participants.

“I LOVE the fact that student interns that look like our kids (participants) are being provided with this teaching opportunity during the summer and are being positive role models.” – OFFERS Parent

True to CREATE’s equity-centeredness, to support students’ social-emotional wellbeing, OFFERS fostered a warm, welcoming environment of belonging. The programming purposefully nurtured cultural affirmation and inclusivity amongst youth participants to make sure their basic needs were met first. OFFERS staff and partners differentiated instruction to equitably meet diverse learners where they were.  The team embraced and implemented trauma-informed practices when interacting with students and colleagues, considering the pandemic, social, and cultural backgrounds. The staff was flexible, accommodating, and dynamic in supporting and fostering students’ and program needs.

STEM in Southeastern San Diego (SESD)

In terms of programming, OFFERS curricula highlighted STEM in everyday life as well as local, culturally-relevant phenomena in SESD. Innovative STEM activities included a balanced representation of science, art, and physical education, as well as exposure to diverse STEM careers and pathways. Daily STEM programming was provided by local providers, to intentionally highlight smaller community organizations that touched on topics like watershed management, agriculture, hydroponics, sewing, chemical reactions, animals, robotics, and many others! Some of the lessons participants enjoyed were snap circuits, rockets, and tie-dye shirts. Not only did they learn a lot about subject matter, they  also learned about the value of making mistakes through trial and error. One of the other activities the kids enjoyed was playing basketball and soccer with the junior staff (high school interns). Almost every day, most kids wanted to play basketball with the interns which was not only really fun for everyone, but also created and strengthened relationships among students, and between students and staff.

OFFERS 2022 could not have been made possible without our amazing partners, brought in very intentionally: Nosotros Alumni, Science Delivered, STEAM Collaborative, Mundo Gardens, Urban Growth SD, Children’s Discovery Center, Ecovivarium, RoboThink, Sew Loka, and Challenge Island (SD Coastal)!

In addition to the daily STEM science investigations at LMEC, OFFERS also provided diverse experiential learning opportunities with physical active engagement and weekly Field Trips on Fridays. STEM is so much more than just Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and OFFERS was designed to meet the needs of the Whole Child, which includes physically connecting to the world around them by moving their bodies, using their senses, and exploring the local resources and attractions that San Diego has to offer. OFFERS STEM Campers took field trips to the San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, Living Coast Discovery Center, Comic Con Museum, and experienced kayaking and paddle boarding at the Coronado Boathouse –  many visiting some of these places for the first time!

Overall, OFFERS STEM Camp successfully engaged students and families in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Student participants left campus daily with smiles on their faces, and STEM materials in their hands. Families eagerly waited on OFFERS’ waiting lists to enroll their children in OFFERS STEM camp after previous satisfaction or community reputation. Parents and family members expressed their sincere gratitude for OFFERS programming and staff members, both verbally and in writing:

“My son really enjoys this camp, and I always see him walk out with a big smile.” – OFFERS Parent

“My child enjoys this camp very much. She was hesitant but after the first day, she wanted to go back the following day” – OFFERS Parent

“Thank you for all this camp brought to my daughter this week. She was really excited each day to come home and share what she did.  She even told me she wants to go back next year!  She loved the robotics, we talked cells and chemistry and all sorts of things this week. Tonight she worked on taking some pieces from the plane that was used earlier in the week to make a mini fan and was super proud of her engineering skills!!!” – OFFERS Parent

“We loved the STEM cards. Thank you for helping to reinforce the many faces of color in science! I think it is so important.  As a person who works in healthcare and seeing some of the inequities in our system we need to continue to have people come from all different backgrounds solving problems and treating patients! Thank you again for inspiring a young mind!” – OFFERS Parent

With gratitude, none of this would have been possible without Level Up SD. The OFFERS team is especially appreciative to the San Diego Unified School District, the Level Up SD program, and the San Diego Foundation for making this possible for the many families that were impacted. They would also like to extend a thank you to the partners, community members, organizations, and staff that made this camp possible.

If you would like to learn more or get involved, please contact Dr. Beto Vasquez at