Eleven-year-old Tamia Thrower, a sixth-grade student at West Oakland Middle School, wants to be a scientist when she grows up.
When you want to become a scientist and learn about science, where do you go? Visiting a national laboratory and meeting with real world scientists is a good place to start.
Thrower was one of more than 100 students from the Bay Area (primarily Oakland and San Francisco) who visited Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) last week for STEM Day at the Laboratory, a daylong interactive event focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for students from underserved or disadvantaged communities.
Thrower enjoyed making elephant’s toothpaste (a chemistry experiment) and seeing 3D printing in action, but was most inspired by the virtual reality demonstration. “The virtual reality was really cool because the videos that I watched were about engineering.”
STEM Day at the Lab was geared toward getting students excited about how fun science could be as a career path and encourage them to make positive future life and career choices.
The Lab event kicked off with Tony Baylis, director of LLNL's Office of Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Programs, who welcomed the participants. "Our hope is that this will be a day of learning and reflection that will inspire and motivate you in hopes that you take something back with you to make a difference in your life," Baylis said.
In welcoming the students, special guest, Assemblywoman Catherine Baker, spoke of the importance of STEM and the impact it can have as you navigate through life.
“We hear a lot about STEM, that you got to have science, technology, engineering and math, and that it’s very important. Today you are going to see why it’s important and the real application it has to your life,” Baker said.
The daylong event consisted of a "Fun With Science" experience followed by lunch where the students sat with Lab employees who chatted with them about what they do at the Lab and potential careers offered at the Lab. Afterward, they visited various STEM exhibits and hands-on demonstrations on algae, coding, radiation, robotics, additive manufacturing (3D printing) and also experienced virtual reality tours.
West Oakland Middle School sixth grade student Ke’Azia Russell liked how the Lab showcased diverse types of science and a lot of different activities. “We came in to the exhibit area and they had this coding activity with different types and ways of coding. I didn’t think that there could be different types and ways of coding and I was like, 'Whoa, that’s really cool, I should try coding one day,' and when I did it I really liked it.”
Among the attendees joining Baker and Baylis, were Dori Ellis, associate Labs director for Integrated Security Solutions for Sandia National Laboratories and Pat Falcone, LLNL’s deputy director for Science and Technology. Each of them welcomed the students, encouraging them to explore and ask questions throughout the day.
Brianna Atkins, a sixth-grade student at West Oakland Middle School, enjoyed the explanations of the science experiments she saw throughout the event. “They taught us how and why,” Atkins said. “They didn’t just tell us, but actually showed us. I liked learning about electricity and how people are conductors of electricity.”
Tywania Griffin from Millennium High School in Tracy brought a group of students to the Lab, not as attendees, but as demonstrators of various robotics. Griffin oversees the computer science and math curriculum for the Tracy Learning Center at Millennium High School and is the assistant principal there.
“My students really enjoy coming to the Lab and interacting with the scientists and other employees,” Griffin said. "Showcasing their work and the experience gives them an opportunity for enriching the things they learn in class. Besides that, the students get to see how science and technology is applied in a real work environment. They gain valuable insight into the lives of these professionals and it makes the ideas that they have about those professions real to them. It's an eye-opening experience and they walk away from this experience with a better understanding of what it means to work at the Lab.”
By participating in the STEM Day experience, Griffin’s students have had internships at the Lab and have confirmed their interest in college choices based on the impact of visiting the Lab.
“One of the things I want to underscore is that understanding STEM does help you answer the questions throughout your life of why,” Baker said. "Why does something work this way? How does it work this way and how can I make it work better, faster, stronger or differently? When you are involved in STEM and you get good at it, and even choose a career in it, you can be part of solving the question of why and how…can I make things better, faster, stronger for everyone.”
See more photos on the web.