Inspiring youth to pursue STEM education

Dec. 2, 2015
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Darlene Yazzie serves as a board member for the Inspire Learning Institute. The outreach organization is dedicated to providing science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to economically depressed communities and underserved, underprivileged and at-risk youth in Contra Costa County. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL (Download Image)

Inspiring youth to pursue STEM education

Breanna Bishop, bishop33@llnl.gov, 925-423-9802

Editor's Note: During the HOME Campaign, Public Affairs will run a series of articles about Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employees who volunteer for various nonprofit agencies.

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Networking always has been important to Darlene Yazzie, a facility coordinator in the Operations and Business Directorate’s Facility Management Division.

“Networking – that is the key to expanding your horizons,” she said. “It’s a way to build your own community.”

Yazzie has applied this philosophy in a number of arenas over the years – with Laboratory networking groups, programs such as the Expanding Your Horizons Network and other volunteer organizations. Today, she focuses her attention on the Inspire Learning Institute (ILI), where she serves as a board member.

ILI is an outreach organization dedicated to providing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to economically depressed communities and underserved, underprivileged and at-risk youth in Contra Costa County. The organization is dedicated to supporting academic achievement; college readiness and employability by providing after-school STEM programs and tutoring; apprentice training programs and expositions; and partnerships with schools, industry and local government to create a system that will bridge the gap in college readiness, career path and employability.

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Darlene Yazzie (background) assists in the Inspire Learning Institute’s 2015 summer camp, where students learned to code and applied those skills to building a robot. Equally important, Yazzie says, they also learned to network.

“The kids may call it something different, but by participating in this program, they are networking,” Yazzie said. “They are making connections and building their own community.”

According to Yazzie, this organization falls at the intersection of her interests – she is inspired by STEM programs and has always had an interest in working in that arena, and she feels an affinity to the population the organization targets.

“As a Native American, it means a lot to me to work with underserved, under-represented minorities,” she said. “STEM programs often work with students in this population and I want to be part of that effort. We need our voices to be heard in these areas.”

ILI focuses its efforts on middle school students in an effort to reach them in time to prepare them for college, a focus that Yazzie wholeheartedly supports. “I really think we need to start young – we need to build that fire for science in them. It’s the No. 1 thing I tell kids – it’s not about now, it’s about your future.”

The idea of preparing these students for the future is personal for Yazzie. “Not many people know that I never spent a day in college. It’s important to me that we let kids know that they need to go to college in this day and age,” she said. “I’m fortunate and blessed to be at the Lab and have been able to do what I’ve done, but that’s because I had the perfect opportunities opened up to me and the right people that believed in me. Today, you have to have an education to get those opportunities, so that is the No. 1 thing that I try to tell these kids.”

Campaigns like HOME not only fund after-school and summer STEM programs at ILI, they also go to things like transporting students to the programs – something that can be necessary in the populations ILI serves. ILI also is looking for volunteers for their summer and tutoring programs. For more information, visit their website.

It’s all part of Yazzie’s philosophy: Giving is better than receiving. “If you have time, even just a little bit, you don’t know whose life you could make a difference in,” she said. “Even if it is just one person, that’s enough for me.”