Highlanders mentor teens aspiring to STEM careers

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About 70 high school students considering careers in the STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and math industries, spent three days on the UC Riverside campus talking with industry experts. industry and other teenagers from surrounding high schools in Riverside and San Bernardino County, many of them from the Riverside Unified School District.

STEM Solutions 2022 (Riverside Unified School District/Jordan Smith

STEM Solutions, a free, hands-on, annual summer learning lab focused on real-world environmental issues affecting our communities, is hosted by STEP, Science & Technology Education Partnerships. This year’s theme – STEM Solutions for a Healthy Future and Sustainable Environmental Leadership – asked participants to collect information and data from government and business resources, a challenge they took on at various locations in Riverside such as the Bourns Technology Center and the California Air Resources Board. They were also asked to brainstorm and brainstorm in small teams; apply what they learned during the week to formulate sustainability solutions; and pitch their design challenge projects to a panel of judges that includes UCR STEM faculty and research students.

Scholarships totaling $2,250 were awarded to the top three performing teams, with all participants earning school credits. The winners were announced on the final day of the program with a top prize of $1,000 awarded to the ‘Jalumachavili’ team – a clever mix of team members’ first names: Jacob, Luke, Maryah, Chandler, Vivian and Julian . Their solution, Green Monster, consumes and converts the greenhouse gas CO2 and returns it to the ground. The team proposed that Green Monster would be more effective in areas with poor air quality and limited resources and estimated the production cost at $2,214.

Other program activities at UCR included a farm tour with Peggy Ann Mauk, UCR Agricultural Operations Manager and CE specialist in subtropical horticulture; patent advice from Kathryn Uhrich, Dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, and a talk on using STEM to serve disadvantaged communities with Rosibel Ochoa, Associate Vice Chancellor of UCR’s Office of Technology Partnerships ; water conservation talks and air pollution workshops where students built homemade air purifiers; and tours of the Center for Environmental Research and Technology, or CE-CERT, and Bourns facilities.

“Throughout the program, students experienced STEM in a variety of flavors,” said Ariana Firebaugh Ornelas, UCR Ph.D. candidate in evolution, ecology and organismal biology and organizer of STEM Solutions.

But the most anticipated flavors of this week-long program? Those experienced at the free all-you-can-eat lunch at UCR’s Glasgow Dining Hall – a sentiment shared by both high school and UCR students.

Dr David Lo, Senior Associate Dean for Research at the School of Medicine and Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences, explained in one session how Salton Sea air pollution primarily affects non-English speakers who migrated from places like Michoacán, Mexico. A question was asked about how public agencies could better disseminate messages regarding lung health to people who do not read/speak English. One of the high schoolers offered the solution of using social media posts produced in their native language – a very Gen Z response.

Although UCR has been part of STEP for its 22 years of existence and of STEM Learning Labs since its inception in 2016, this is the first year that UCR has helped organize the program of a STEM Solutions week, led by Loralee Larios, an assistant professor of botany and plant science

“I have to say the best part was that students at the end of the week said they wanted to come to UCR for a STEM degree,” Larios said of the experience.

Advice from UCR students for teens with a passion for STEM:

“You can do STEM anywhere and everywhere. Challenge yourself to connect with STEM in everyday life – at a farmer’s market, in a coffee shop or at the beach. Never limit yourself — Sonali Bhakta, pursuing a BS in Biochemistry and a minor in Law and Society

“Be curious and be positive. We need curiosity to find potential research questions, and at the same time we need to be positive to keep walking the path of science. — Yaning Miao, Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Science

“Take the opportunity to explore all their curiosities. When you are able to combine curiosity and knowledge, science can become a very fascinating and intriguing field. — Ashley J. Trinidad, pursuing a BS in Neuroscience

“We are in the golden age of self-service information, but don’t underestimate what can be gained with even a little communication. After you’ve done some independent research on your interest, take the next step and contact resources in your neighborhood and you’ll often get more than just answers. Ideas, opportunities, other relationships and even careers can open up to you just by talking to people on the ground. — Benjamin Nyman, Ph.D. Candidate in Entomology

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