‘STEM Day at the Lab’ returns: students engaged and inspired by STEM fields

An excited young person at a science experiment (Download Image)

STEM Day inspires and motivates youth by building awareness of STEM and showcasing career opportunities within science and technology. Photos by Garry McLeod/LLNL

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) welcomed more than 145 students from the Bay Area (Oakland, Pittsburg and San Mateo) to ‘STEM Day at the Lab’ on Friday, Oct. 6. STEM Day is a biannual daylong interactive event focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities for students (grades 5-8) from underserved or disadvantaged communities. The event marked the return of STEM Day; the first-time bringing students back to the Lab since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

STEM Day is sponsored by the Lab’s Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) with programmatic support from the Academic Engagement Office (AEO). The event is geared toward getting students excited about how fun science can be as a career path and to encourage them to make positive future life and career choices.

“It is fantastic to be able to resume our STEM Day at the Lab program,” said Tony Baylis, director of the Lab’s IDEA office. “I am thrilled for LLNL to be a source of motivation to our young people who may not be aware of the importance of their education. We inspire students to dream big and aim high.”

The Lab was bustling with activity upon the schools’ arrival. Students represented five schools: the East Oakland Youth Development Center; the Frick United Academy of Language and Montera Middle School from the Oakland Unified School District; Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School from the Pittsburg Unified School District; and St. Matthew's Catholic School in San Mateo. For many students, it was the first time visiting and touring a scientific institution like LLNL.

Cynthia Rivera, principal associate director for Operations and Business, and Larry Durham, associate director of Human Resources, welcomed participants and shared their inspirational journeys of how they arrived at LLNL.

“I’m thrilled to be part of the first STEM Day at LLNL since the pandemic. This event is an exciting opportunity to connect with the next generation of talent to let them know about the wide range of disciplines and career paths here at our Lab,” Rivera said. “Our visitors may be surprised by all the opportunities we have at the Lab and the range of talent that we need to achieve our national security mission.”

“As a new leader at the Lab, it is very exciting to participate in such a meaningful forum in which we partner with schools and young people to explore the very fun and impactful aspects of STEM,” Durham said. “Events such as STEM Day allow opportunities for growth and learning, which I believe will follow these young people for many years to come. I hope to still be in the workforce when we’re able to hire our workforce of the future from the students we’re interacting with today.”

Participants enjoyed a Fun with Science display by Lab employees Harold Rogers and Brian Bennion. A large group photo was taken followed by lunch where more than 40 Lab employees joined students and discussed what they do, sharing potential careers students could embark upon at the Lab. In total, 118 employees volunteered to make STEM Day 2023 happen.

A group of people in an auditorium
LLNL’s STEM Day instills an awareness and passion for STEM by exposing students (grades 5–8) to science and technology.

STEM Day was not just a first-time experience for students. For two teachers, this also was their first-time attending the event with their schools.

Litzi Galvan of Frick United Academy of Language brought her bilingual students to LLNL where she was able to connect her classroom’s science lessons with the Lab’s work.

“My school and students are bilingual. Aside from English, my students know either Spanish or Arabic,” Galvan said. “This is our first time at the Lab and we’re grateful for being here. Despite some language barriers, all the activities were interactive and fun for my students. The event exposed them to diverse jobs in STEM and showed them that there are employees who speak their languages doing great work here.”

Another teacher, Sharon Washing Barnes of the East Oakland Youth Development Center brought her six students. Her school serves predominantly Black students in East Oakland and their visit to the Lab was something they’ve anticipated for a while.

“Our students were nervous at first because they’ve never had experiences outside of their neighborhoods like the ones today, seeing people who look like them in STEM fields,” Barnes said. “This event has been impactful for us. Being able to expose them to institutions like LLNL is important because it tells students: ‘Look, you have a Laboratory within an hour from you that has people that look like you who do important science. This can be you one day.’ And today’s event makes that link for them.”

Young students at tables in a large room
Throughout STEM Day, students participated in hands-on demonstrations, workshops and tours. 

The afternoon consisted of a tour of the National Ignition Facility along with hands-on STEM activities. The hands-on demonstrations, workshops and tours allowed students to be in a scientist role for the day. Activities were led by Monique Romine, who demonstrated edible aquifers) and Tiffany Islas, showing bristle bots.

LLNL invests in building connections, access and opportunities to further the prospects of students in underserved and disadvantaged communities to achieve STEM careers. The Lab is an involved member of local communities, and STEM Day builds the future of the STEM workforce for the Laboratory and the nation.

Curious to learn more about the Lab’s community and education efforts? Read how LLNL engages with neighboring communities here.

Organizers of the event included Baylis, Jenessa Angel, IDEA business operations specialist, and Joanna Albala, AEO’s STEM education program manager. For more information about future STEM Day programming, contact IDEA [at] (LLNL’s IDEA) office.