Sunlight streamed between trees and dappled the lawn of the Dutcher Middle School campus, where excited young scientists tested tiny solar panels. In the light, stamp-sized fan blades whirled. In shade, they stopped.
“It’s awesome,” declared eighth-grader Skye Cardoza, who plans on a career in physics or marine biology. She jumped at the chance to join the solar science club run by Stanislaus State physics students this fall, one of a range of science-centered service activities for K-12 students.
On the third of seven Tuesday sessions at Dutcher, Stan State students worked on the basics of generating electricity in preparation for assembling Solar Suitcases , a PG&E program to teach middle schoolers about green energy. The solar generators students build are sent to remote areas around the world that lack electricity.
For a middle-schooler standing under a blazing sun, a spinning fan marked her progress toward helping others. “Just think, with the push of a button they’ll have electricity,” Skye said with a wide smile.
Her schoolmates saw wider potential in the simple spinners. “Green energy could help save our environment,” said sixth-grader Cole Hackler.
Dutcher technology students worked on direct and alternating current in class last week, a good fit with the Solar Suitcase project, said teacher David Unter. Science teacher Elias Ruiz has a unit on molecules and atoms coming up in his class. The middle school instructors see value beyond Solar Suitcases in the serve as advisors to the Dutcher Science Club that inspires 25 to 30 students to give up lunch recess once a week.
“I saw a student walk by saying ‘I love science!’ I think we’re achieving our goals at Dutcher by the level of excitement,” said organizer Miriam Ureno Moreno. She is the Stanislaus State STEM VISTA Outreach Coordinator (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). She facilitates College of Science outreach programs through the Office of Service Learning, a collaboration proving so productive AmeriCorps VISTA plans to highlight Ureno Moreno’s work at Stan State in its upcoming three-year impact report.
In the Solar Suitcase program, middle schoolers are making satchel-sized solar power units that store energy in batteries that hold roughly enough power to charge 14 phones, said Stan State physics student Jonathan Daniel. “I grew up in a small town. I never had exposure to the sciences. Once I did, I was hooked,” Daniel said. “I see this as outreach to children that might not have exposure to the sciences, like I didn’t.”
“Most of our students talk about wanting to give back to their community,” said Professor Mark Grobner. “Most of the community areas served by these programs are where our students come from, and our students want to reach out to those communities to help guide kids toward a college education.”
In helping others, students also help themselves, he added. “We know these students tend to stay in the STEM disciplines and graduate sooner. Our students involved in these activities, of course, get volunteer hours. Those interested in professional schools or teaching can use this experience to help make them a better candidate for these programs,” Grobner said.
Here are more science students outreach activities:
- On Oct. 24, two busloads of second-graders from a Sacramento-area charter school visited Stanislaus State for a STEM-centered tour of the campus led by Stan State science students.
- On Oct. 28, more than 100 Delhi High School students and their parents participated in the Delhi Medical Academy of Sciences Conference at Stan State in Naraghi Hall, hosted by the College of Science and affiliated student clubs. Up to 70 Delhi students will return Dec. 1 to conduct lab experiments at the University under the mentorship of University student STEM Ambassadors.
- About 60 students from Cunningham and Wakefield elementary schools in Turlock visited the campus to take part in Junior Scientist activities Nov. 4 alongside Stan State science mentors.
- Physics students will host a free, community telescope night, billed as “Out of this World,” on Nov. 17. Science Saturdays occur regularly during fall and spring semesters, and the annual Science Day is run by around 250 student and 40 faculty volunteers.