May 18, 2022
More than 200 students and their families attended the 10th Annual Latino College and STEM Fair (LCSF), a virtual bilingual event hosted in mid-March by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s GoSTEM program. GoSTEM is a collaborative partnership between the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), Institute Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the Office of the Provost. Its mission is to promote STEM academic achievement and college attendance among Latinx K-12 students.
The LCSF, one of the major events for GoSTEM, has also been a staple of the Atlanta Science Festival since 2014. The Atlanta Science Festival features more than 100 interactive and educational sessions over a two-week period every year.
“It is hard to believe it has been a decade since we started the Latino College and STEM Fair, and I am so proud to see how much it has grown and flourished since then” said Analía Rao, GoSTEM’s Program Director. “This fair brings together a community of people who believe that college and STEM can and should be possibilities for all students. We want students to see themselves in STEM, to feel that they belong in this community. And I’m confident our fair provides that. I am proud of the rich content that we deliver at this event to inspire and prepare our future Latino scientists and leaders in STEM.”
The half-day program began with a keynote address by Dr. Cecilia Aragon, an award-winning author, airshow pilot, and the first Latina Full Professor of Engineering at the University of Washington. Then Georgia Tech’s Latino Organization for Graduate Students (LOGRAS) led a workshop on preparing for post-secondary education and STEM careers.
Event partner, Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HoPe), Inc., presented a “College Experience Panel,” comprised of alumni of HoPe’s program who are pursuing STEM fields. The non-profit organization builds a sense of belonging for high school students to succeed through leadership development, educational resources, and community services.
“Our focus was to invite Spanish-speaking, Latinx college students and working professionals, who could give genuine perspectives on their experiences navigating college life and its difficulties,” explained Sebastian Maturino, HoPe’s director of marketing who served as the moderator. “We aimed to shine a light on any questions students or parents might have about the college process.”
César López, HoPe’s director of education, added that the first-time official collaboration with LCSF also amplified the organization’s focus. “I enjoyed working with the GoSTEM team to intentionally create and structure a STEM-oriented college student panel that would resonate with families across a virtual platform,” he said. “We are excited to see how we can continue to work with GoSTEM in their future endeavors.”
A week prior to the virtual LCSF, over 600 K-12 students were engaged in STEM activities that were organized virtually or in person at 10 schools and community organizations throughout Georgia with an online event in Puerto Rico.
A mixture of faculty, students, and researchers from Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, and Georgia College and State University led the 13 activities that explored various concepts ranging from chemistry and physical science to biomedical engineering and chemical engineering.
Marisa Brito, a first-year neuroscience major at Georgia Tech, taught Gadsden Elementary School students about the different states of matter before the students made oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid that does not follow Newton’s law of viscosity. “They were in second grade, and they all seemed engaged in the short lesson, and were very excited about making oobleck,” she said.
Brito feels that opportunities such as the LCSF, are essential not only for undergraduates, but also K-12 students. “Growing up, I never really saw or heard of any Latinos in the field I wanted to pursue,” said Brito. “So, providing this representation to young kids while teaching them science allows them to gain an interest in the subject and know that there are other Latinos who are in STEM and succeeding.”
Similarly for Tyler Kinner, a research scientist with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, relating to students through authentic scientific inquiry not only helps pique their interests in the STEM fields, but more importantly, creates a sense of belonging in this sphere. As a first-time LCSF volunteer, he traveled to Lilburn Middle School to deliver a lesson he adapted from his days as a high school chemistry teacher in which students observed the differences between colors derived from fruits and spices and artificial sources.
Growing up in a small rural community, Kinner realized his K-12 experience was different from those of many others. After mentoring high school students during his undergraduate years, he developed a passion for inclusive STEM education.
“I developed a sense of urgency around this very real gap between interested students in STEM and the ability of STEM fields to serve these students,” he said. “It is important to create connections for students to feel like they are members of the community, whether it is Georgia Tech, STEM or a community involved in lifelong learning. Being an active participant in these communities in a way that is visible to students and engages them as participants helps propel them into the next phase of their development and growth towards college and career.”
Dr. Julián Rímoli, the Pratt & Whitney Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech, strives to be a role model every day, which is why he has been involved in outreach activities and the GoSTEM event since joining Georgia Tech in 2011. “The Latino College and STEM Fair is a unique event that provides an opportunity for us from Georgia Tech to connect with Latino students and their families,” he said. “I believe this is one of the most impactful Latino outreach activities at Georgia Tech, and I am glad that faculty are given the opportunity to engage.”
For this iteration, Rímoli combined a motivational presentation with a virtual activity on aerospace structures that included awards for top designs for over 300 high school students from the Monserrate León de Irizarry school in Puerto Rico.
After Rímoli shared his professional journey that started in a small town in Argentina, the students learned how to design lightweight yet strong aerospace structures using an educational app he created called Truss Me!, which helped them understand the behavior of these structures through physics-based simulations. The students then worked on their own designs and presented the next week.
“I have only once before done an outreach activity in a virtual format due to COVID, and never with this extraordinary number of participants,” he said. “I was very impressed by the students’ abilities to design lightweight structures with relatively minor directions!”
Brenda Lee Estévez Moreno, who teaches earth science at the Cabo Rojo-based high school, was happy that her students were able to participate in all facets of the LCSF. “This STEM activity was motivating and very enriching for both our students and faculty,” she said. “Dr. Julián Rímoli knew how to transmit his passion for his work as an engineer, while motivating our young Latinos to follow their goals and work hard for what they want professionally.”
Jean Michael Jiménez Ramírez, a participating high school student, said that the experience helped him realize that programming can be a dynamic and engaging task, rather than a tedious one. “The virtual STEM activity was challenging, but very fun,” he explained. “It did not matter how hard the challenge was, you always had a wonderful time. My favorite part was that you kept learning new ways to program and improve, which really paid off in the final activity.”
For student Wendell Kenai Rivera Estevez, the opportunity to connect with a Latino individual like himself was a critical aspect, in making the STEM field more reachable and welcoming. He compared STEM to sports in which there are many talented people, who may not be able to realize their full potential in the field because they never get the opportunity to practice or are not aware of the possibilities.
“In this case, I know about STEM because of activities like this and so it would be awesome if there could be more, not for me, but for all those good players out there,” he said. “This made me feel more comfortable like I could do something in STEM because people just like me already do amazing things.”
Alana Cruz Romeu, also a student participant from Puerto Rico, cited the student camaraderie as a favorite part of the activity. “The activity was wonderful, and I truly enjoyed every experience I had,” she said. “I think that my favorite part about it was being able to talk to other people that have similar interests to mine and show them what I was able to do throughout my journey.”
The Latino College and STEM Fair was sponsored by the Latin American Association, MALDEF, Univisión 34 Atlanta, Mundo Hispánico, and Telemundo Atlanta. The organizing team from GoSTEM included Analía Rao, GoSTEM Program Director, Jorge Breton, Director of Hispanic Initiatives at Georgia Tech, and Michael Turner, GoSTEM Educational Outreach Manager.
For more information, please visit: https://gostem.gatech.edu/programs-and-engagement-opportunities/annual-latino-college-stem-fair.
—Joëlle Walls, CEISMC Communications