Central Valley students inspired by STEM Day

(Download Image) Lemuel Perez Perez, an engineer within the Materials Engineering Division, explains how 3D printers work to students during STEM Day at the Lab. Photo by Carrie Martin/LLNL

Ashley Love, an eighth-grade student at Henry Elementary School in Stockton, wants to be an engineer when she grows up. What better way to learn about engineering than at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)?

Love was one of more than 180 students from San Joaquin and Sacramento counties who visited LLNL last week for STEM Day at the Laboratory, a daylong interactive event focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). STEM Day at the Lab was geared toward getting students excited about how science could be a fun career path and encouraging them to make positive future life and career choices. Students came from Great Valley Elementary School and Joseph Widmer Elementary School, Manteca; Whitmore Charter School for the Arts and Technology, Ceres; St. Bernard's, Tracy; Henry Elementary and Stockton Peyton Elementary, Stockton; and Ephraim Williams College Prep, Sacramento. See the photo gallery.

As the students arrived, they were treated to a special showing of the documentary, "Dream Big: Engineering Our World," a first-of-its-kind film that aims to transform how people think about engineering. Mike Carter, acting deputy principal director of the NIF & Photon Science Directorate. and Tony Baylis, director of LLNL's Office of Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Programs, welcomed the participants, inspiring them to keep an open mind as they go about their day. "Our goal for today is to ignite curiosity. Curiosity into the wonders of science, technology, engineering and math and all the possibilities and opportunities that await you. We hope you not only leave the Laboratory today envisioning yourself in scientific roles, but also adopt the confidence and realization that you can pursue any career you want to," Baylis said.

Other guest speakers included Dean Reese, science coordinator, San Joaquin Office of Education, and Raul Lara, scientist for Mission Support and Test Services, LLC. Congressman Jerry McNerney, who represents California’s 9th District, also attended.


Despite the proximity from the Central Valley to LLNL, many students like Love didn’t really know much about the Laboratory. After a day on site for tours, mentoring and interactive hands-on STEM-focused demonstrations, students now have a better understanding of what engineers and scientists do and where they can spend their career.

"I learned that NIF holds the world's largest laser and that the whole Lab is under strict security," said Diana Hutchings, an eighth-grade student from St. Bernard's Catholic School. "My favorite part of STEM Day was learning about the artist who makes posters and other creative scientific advertisements. I am interested in being a scientist and I would like to work at the Lab as an artist and scientist who explains science through art."

The daylong event consisted of a "Fun With Science" display of hands-on experiments, followed by a lunch in which students sat with Lab employees who discussed what they do and potential careers they could embark on at the Lab.

The afternoon consisted of a tour of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) along with hands-on STEM exhibits on algae, coding, robotics, additive manufacturing (3D printing) and virtual reality tours.

At NIF, two waves of students flowed between STEM stations indoors and outdoors as Lab volunteers shared some of the inner workings of the world’s largest and most energetic laser. Outside, the students were exposed to a general NIF overview, NIF targets and hands-on advanced photon technologies, which helped demonstrated how lasers — big and small — operate. After learning about technical and scientific communications, students toured NIF’s control room, master oscillator room and a laser bay. At these stations, docents inspired the students by describing their own STEM backgrounds, career paths and journeys to NIF.


Patty Paredes, principal at St. Bernard Catholic School in Tracy, brought 24 students to the Lab. "It was an educational and informative day, a good balance between knowledge and fun," she said. "I liked that the program was 100 percent focused on student learning. It is worth exposing students to careers in STEM, even if science may not be their first choice."

"Our first engagement with the San Joaquin County community was a success," Baylis said. "The students, chaperones, teachers and administrators truly enjoyed the experience. One chaperone, who works at another high-profile Bay Area company, asked if he can work here, a great complement to the Laboratory."

This event was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Programs with assistance from the University Relations and Science Education Program and employee volunteers. For more information, contact dozhier2 [at] (Jenessa Dozhier), administrator, Office of Strategic Diversity and Inclusion, at (925) 424-5974.