IMPACT LA 2012 | Spotlight | August 27, 2012

Camp aims to ‘IMPACT’ students with hands-on science activities

NSF-funded program trains CSULA grad students, inspires local children in STEM fields

Click photos for hi-res images:

  • ant world project.
  • crime scene investigation.
  • building model under seismic force.
  • lava lamp project.
  • cardboard boat design and race.

Picture of 2012 IMPACT LA Fellows.
IMPACT LA Fellows: (front row, l-r) Andrea Herrera, Sevak Ghazaryan, Maria Ortega, Patricia Sanchez, Christian Varela, (back row, l-r) Nichole Lee, Gregory Alvarado, and Janel Ortiz.

While middleschool student Anthony held up a jar filled with aqua-blue gel, he and his junior lab partner Jaden used magnify glasses to search for the queen in a make-shift ant habitat. The duo also conducted an experiment testing whether ants prefer granulated sugar, maple syrup, or peanut butter.

“This is one of the cool workshops,” according to the two budding scientists, which is offered to the more than 80 6th- through 8th-graders from the Greater Los Angeles area through the annual IMPACT LA Summer Camp at Cal State L.A.

IMPACT LA stands for Improving Minority Partnerships and Access through CISE-related Teaching (CISE refers to “Computer and Information Science and Engineering”). The program, directed by Professor Nancy Warter-Perez at CSULA, is funded by a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Led by eight graduate students, the fun-filled, hands-on science and engineering activities were designed to “impact” the middle-school students and spark their interest in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

This summer camp also provided an opportunity for the graduate students, who were selected as this year’s IMPACT LA Graduate Teaching Fellows, to prepare to teach and develop hands-on lessons from their research to be used in the classrooms. Serving as visiting scientists and engineers at designated school sites, the 2012 IMPACT LA Fellows are CSULA graduate students Gregory Alvarado, Andrea Herrera, Sevak Ghazaryan, Nichole Lee, Maria Ortega, Janel Ortiz, Patricia Sanchez, and Christian Varela.

In Maria Ortega’s crime scene investigation session, the students had to use different techniques, such as chromatography and blood analysis, to piece together a criminal case scenario to solve the crime.

A second-year fellow, Ortega developed and conducted the activity based on her research involving the development of new techniques for microfluidic devices. She said, “One of the most important things that I have learned from the IMPACT LA program has been to become a better communicator, especially a better communicator of my research.”

Applying the skills and knowledge she is learning at CSULA, she shared, “I would like to pursue a medical degree to become a physician in the future. This is a field that will allow me to continuously learn, and it can provide many pathways, such as working with patients and doing research.”

As for mechanical engineering major Sevak Ghazaryan, he led the children in a bridge-building activity, using tape, straws and paper clips during the camp. He said, “We tested the strength of the bridge with weights. Students were judged based on the strength of the bridge, creativity and overall design.”

Ghazaryan, whose research is focused on utilizing different physical properties to create a strong composite material, shared, “I want to learn and discover new things in the world of science, which I’m trying to do through education and research. Furthermore, I also want to have a positive influence in our society and future generations of young scientists and engineers.”

The IMPACT LA Fellows also coordinated the following interactive projects for this year’s two-day camp: paper rocket blast off, Tic Tac® flashlight, liquid lava lamp, ice cream in a bag, zebra fish jaw model and more. As part of the annual tradition, the children also demonstrated their creativity and design skills during the Egg Drop Design and the Cardboard Boat Design and Race team challenges.

“The summer camp was a huge success!” said Warter-Perez, professor of electrical engineering at CSULA. “The kids had fun being scientists and engineers, and the fellows did a fantastic job planning and conducting the activities and challenges. I’m looking forward to another great year—we’ve got such a great group of teachers and fellows who are passionate about what they do and about helping kids explore the wonders of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”

Check out video footage of the Tic Tac® flashlight project:

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