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Cal State L.A. students ‘IMPACT’ kids with their STEM research

Final year of NSF-funded program helps equip graduate teaching fellows for the classroom

IMPACT LA campers making telescopes:

2013 IMPACT LA Fellows:

Gregory Alvarado, biological sciences major
School: Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School
Partner teacher: John Cerezo
Faculty mentor: Dr. Robert Nissen
Research focus: to further characterize the role of WDR68 in zebrafish craniofacial development.

Tzitlaly Barajas, physics major
School: Kipp LA
Partner teacher: Baron You
Faculty mentor: Dr. Milan Mijic
Research focus: to study the formation and evolution of galaxies.

Sevak Ghazaryan, mechanical engineering major
School: Stevenson Middle School
Partner teacher: Jerardo Martin
Faculty mentor: Dr. Adel Sharif
Research focus: to find possible composite-based material candidate to substitute metal alloy chassis of transport cars.

Nelson Gonzalez, biological sciences major
School: Hollenbeck Middle School
Partner teacher: Tony Semaan
Faculty mentor: Dr. Katrina Yamazaki
Research focus: to study the effects of epicatechin on type 2 diabetic animal models.

Janel Ortiz, biological sciences major
School: Hollenbeck Middle School
Partner teacher: Christine Rosser
Faculty mentor: Dr. Alan Muchlinski
Research focus: to study the differences in behavior and ecology of the native Western Gray Squirrel and the introduced Eastern Fox Squirrel.

Patricia Sanchez, electrical engineering major (with a concentration in biomedical engineering)
School: Stevenson Middle School
Partner teacher: Cynthia Godoy
Faculty mentor: Dr. Deborah Won
Research focus: to consider neuromuscular electrical stimulation as a form of rehabilitative walking therapy following spinal cord injury.

Pictured: 2013 IMPACT LA Fellows.
L-r: Tzitlaly Barajas, Nelson Gonzalez, Janel Ortiz, Gregory Alvarado and Sevak Ghazaryan. (not pictured: Patricia Sanchez)

Six Cal State L.A. students are excited to take their research into the classroom, having been named this year’s and potentially the last cohort of IMPACT LA Graduate Teaching Fellows.

The 2013 Fellows are Gregory Alvarado, Tzitlaly Barajas, Sevak Ghazaryan, Nelson Gonzalez, Janel Ortiz and Patricia Sanchez. They will each be awarded a $30,000 stipend, along with $10,500 for fees, books and travel, to conduct research and develop classroom activities related to subjects ranging from diabetes to zebrafish.

Pictured; egg drop challenge.
Middleschoolers participating in the Egg Drop Challenge as part of the IMPACT LA Summer Camp.

Funded by a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the IMPACT LA GK-12 program pairs college graduate students with partner teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve graduate student communication skills and to foster children’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). IMPACT LA stands for Improving Minority Partnerships and Access through CISE*-related Teaching (*CISE refers to “Computer and Information Science and Engineering”).

“Our nation needs more scientists and engineers to drive technological advances and to turn the economy around. The program is unique in bringing teachers, graduate students, and professors together to help increase the number of young people entering STEM fields and improve the communication skills of graduate students as future engineering and science leaders,” said Professor Nancy Warter-Perez, the IMPACT LA program’s director. “Kids don’t really know what scientists and engineers do, but after working with a fellow for a year, they understand that engineers and scientists are creative fun people who make a difference in the world.”

“Unfortunately, NSF is no longer funding the Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) program,” she added. “We are looking for different avenues of funding to support at least some of the successful activities we have developed over the past five years for the IMPACT LA program.”

Each summer for the past five years, the Fellows have also coordinated a two-day science and engineering summer camp for a group of more than 70 6th through 8th graders from the Greater Los Angeles area. The camp helps prepare the graduate students for the fall when they begin teaching and developing hands-on lessons at their designated school sites.

This year, the IMPACT LA Summer Camp featured numerous fun and interactive projects led by the Fellows, with such titles as Fly Me to the Moon Rockets!, Egg Drop Challenge, Frozen Hot Cheetos, Sky High-Build a Skyscraper, and I Scream for Ice Cream!

image of camera icon.

Janel Ortiz, whose research is focused on wildlife, in particular the behavior of tree squirrels, organized a “Be a Junior Wildlife Biologist” activity.

“I am showing the kids how to safely trap and capture wild birds and small mammals using box traps and nets, in order to help scientists count animal populations and to also count endangered species,” she explained.

With an assortment of stuffed animal toys as models, the children had the opportunity to set up mini traps, learn how to process the animals by using measurements, and how to handle birds and small mammals.

“The same box trap method is used in tree squirrel research to capture the animals and band them for future identification and further research,” added Ortiz.

image of camera icon.

Nelson Gonzalez, who organized a “Jell-O Dissection” activity, wanted the children to learn that cells are the basic structure and functional components found within living organism and are considered the building blocks of life.

“The kids had to dissect the cell, extract the candies and break them up into make a homogenous mixture,” he explained. “After that, we placed it into a microtube in the centrifuge to observe some of techniques that scientists use to study cells.”

Ryan Toovi, an eighth grader, was delighted to be able to eat the Jell-O after the experiment.

“I had fun dissecting Jell-O and dropping the egg too,” he said. “I like science and maybe I can be a scientist one day.”

The young students also had the opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and design skills in the annual Cardboard Boat Race engineering team challenge. Using only cardboard boxes, a trash bag, and duct tape, the children had to put together a floating device designed to carry one person’s weight across the CSULA swimming pool.

“I am really enjoying all the projects, and learning a lot about engineering!” said sixth grader Daphne Mal, who seemed pleased with the chance to be immersed in science and engineering. “I didn’t know what to expect at this camp, but now I am glad that my mom signed me up.”

Picture of campers building a popsicle skyscraper. Picture of the winner of the Cardboard Boat engineering challenge. Picture of campers dissecting a balloon cell filled with Jell-O and candies.

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Last Update: 08/2/2013