IMPACT LA Fellows | Spotlight

IMPACT LA generates STEM interests among children

NSF program propels CSULA graduate students into local schools

Fellow demonstrates motor activity in action

Third class of
IMPACT LA Fellows:

Mark Abbott, electrical engineering major
School: Hollenbeck Middle School
Partner teacher: Mr. Reyes
Research focus: Improving efficiency of power generation from vertical axis wind turbines

Jessica Alvarenga, electrical engineering major
School: Roosevelt High School
Partner teacher: Mr. Hernandez
Research focus: Control algorithms for a large segmented space telescope testbed

Oleg Gontar, biology major
School: Hollenbeck Middle School
Partner teachers: Mr. Semaan, Ms. Rosser
Research focus: Effects of the jojoba oil diet on the reverse cholesterol transport in New Zealand white rabbits

Victor Mejia, computer science major
School: Roosevelt High School
Partner teacher: Mr. Trejo
Research focus: Development of an object-tracking algorithm for real-time automated video analysis

Omar Miranda, mechanical engineering major
School: Stevenson Middle School
Partner teacher: Ms. Godoy
Research focus: Working with ultra violet lighting and its impact on grey water, related to resource conservation

Phanit Pollavith, computer science major
School: Roosevelt High School
Partner teacher: Ms. Sanchez
Research focus: Development of fragile watermarking schemes that detect and localize illegal modifications for digital images/videos

Ricardo Sanchez, biochemistry major
School: Stevenson Middle School
Partner teacher: Ms. Rojas
Research focus: Creation of software that uses protein structural data to predict oxidation susceptibility

Jose Zamalloa, biochemistry major
Partner teacher: Mr. Cerezo
School: Stevenson Middle School
Research focus: Study of a cancer prevention protein and better understanding of metal toxicology effect on human proteins

L-r: IMPACT LA summer camp participants Kobe Rico and Candice Lau.
Pictured (l-r): Kobe Rico of Los Angeles and Candice Lau of San Gabriel working together to build a Beakman’s Electric Motor as part of an IMPACT LA Summer Camp activity.

Powering up electromagnetic energy to create rotational motion (with only a copper wire, D-Cell battery, magnet, two paper clips and a rubber band) was one of many fun, educational science and engineering activities coordinated by this year’s group of IMPACT LA Graduate Teaching Fellows.

The eight fellows—Mark Abbott, Jessica Alvarenga, Oleg Gontar, Victor Mejia, Omar Miranda, Phanit Pollavith, Ricardo Sanchez, and Jose Zamalloa—organized a two-day camp for more than 70 6th through 8th graders from throughout the community. The summer camp charges up the IMPACT LA Fellows for the fall when they begin developing hands-on lessons from their research for the classrooms.

Selected as the third class of IMPACT LA Fellows, the graduate students will serve as visiting scientists and engineers at Hollenbeck Middle School, Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School and Theodore Roosevelt High School, partnering with the schools’ teachers to foster students’ interest and fascination in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Other fellow-led activities for this year’s camp included smoking hot Cheetos, building popsicle stick towers, using ink chromatography to solve a crime, and constructing a mini Lifesavers candy car. The children also had the opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and design skills in these two engineering team challenges—Mars Rover Egg Drop Contest and the Cardboard Boat Race.

Picture of IMPACT-LA Fellows.
2010 IMPACT LA Fellows at Cal State L.A.: (standing, l-r) Victor Mejia, Omar Miranda, Phanit Pollavith, Jose Zamalloa, Mark Abbott (seated, l-r) Oleg Gontar, Ricardo Sanchez and Jessica Alvarenga.

“Having been a part of IMPACT LA this past year,” said Electrical engineering major Alvarenga, “I’ve really come to realize and appreciate the dedication of our K-12 teachers. As a woman in engineering, I’ve been able to see just how important it is for girls to have female role models in science and engineering fields and for kids in general to get to be exposed to as much as possible.”

Alvarenga added, “We as engineers have a lot to offer back to the community, and having programs like IMPACT LA at Cal State L.A. is only one of the ways we can do so. Creativity and dedication go a long way in this field, and it’s important to let kids see that you don’t need to be Einstein to make a difference in the world. The summer camp really gives kids a chance to explore the various science and engineering fields in a fun way. I wish I had an experience like that when I was in school.”

And, mechanical engineering major Miranda shared, “I had a great experience at the summer camp, and the kids seemed very happy with the activities planned for them. From my involvement in the program, I hope to show the students in my sixth grade class that science/math and research is fun and interesting; and hopefully they’ll consider pursuing them as they continue their education.”

Background: “IMPACT” stands for Improving Minority Partnerships and Access through Computer/Information Science/Engineering-related Teaching. Directed by Nancy Warter-Perez, a Cal State L.A. professor of electrical and computer engineering, the University’s IMPACT LA program is funded by a five-year $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation. In its third year, the program awards each fellow a $30,000 stipend, along with $10,500 for fees, books and travel, to conduct research and develop classroom activities.

At the 2010 annual NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K12 Education Conference in Washington, DC, the IMPACT LA program at Cal State L.A. garnered two honors. Out of 165 active NSF GK12 projects, the CSULA project won the Best Annual Report Award and received honorable mention for the Best Project Website. Designed by CSULA Professor Huiping Guo and her student Ellen Chang Chien, and maintained by IMPACT LA program manager Alex Abramyan, the IMPACT LA website is located at

Find out more about IMPACT LA at the following links: