On a warm summer’s day this August, sounds of giddy laughter and even a few squeals echoed throughout the Experimental Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.
Thirty energetic high school students could hardly contain their excitement as Scripps graduate student Garfield Kwan led them on an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the research aquarium, where the incoming seniors had the opportunity to hold prickly sea urchins, slimy sea cucumbers, and a variety of other marine creatures. A tank of leopard sharks elicited “oohs” and “ahhs” from the students, who were clearly intrigued as Kwan described the ways in which he and other marine biologists work with the sharks to study the effects of ocean acidification.
The students participating in this hands-on aquarium tour were visiting UC San Diego and Scripps as part of the Triton Summer STEM Academy (TSSA), an outreach and recruitment program geared toward high-achieving minority students from socio-economically disadvantaged communities.
Now in its second year, TSSA is a collaborative UC San Diego effort among Scripps Oceanography, the Division of Biological Sciences, the Division of Physical Sciences, Jacobs School of Engineering, Student Affairs, and Admissions designed to increase the number of enrollees from three high performing yet underrepresented schools located in South Los Angeles: Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School (Bravo), King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science (King Drew), and the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS).
The immersive week-long program aims to show students the possibilities of careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and the vast opportunities available at UC San Diego.
“The Triton Summer STEM Academy gives prospective students a chance to get to know the UC San Diego campus, to learn first hand about opportunities in STEM that we have here, and time with undergraduate and graduate students who know the ropes and can fill them in on what campus life is all about,” said Cheryl Peach, director of Scripps Educational Alliances. “Spending time here allows them to visualize themselves living on campus and makes the prospect of coming to UC San Diego much less intimidating as it is no longer ‘the unknown.’”
For five days, the TSSA students lived in on-campus dorm housing, attended academic workshops, met with graduate students and professors, attended financial aid and college application sessions, and participated in a host of other activities around campus.
The students also spent one full day visiting the Scripps campus, where they attended informational sessions, visited Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and were given exclusive tours of scientific research labs and of the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier—a perfect vantage point to reflect on the beauty of the coastline and the unparalleled opportunities provided by this oceanfront location.
“The highlight of this experience so far has been taking a step back and really looking at the campus and all the things UCSD has to offer, from the research opportunities and labs across campus to the Scripps Coastal Reserve for marine research,” said Aliaya White, 17, a student at King Drew. “It’s all very impressive.”
During the pier tour, led by Scripps graduate student Boe Derosier and Scripps undergraduate advisor Josh Reeves, the group discussed the growing importance of careers in ocean and earth science.
“Studying the environment and protecting the environment are becoming more and more important, and there will be lots of future jobs available in this growing field,” said Reeves.
Derosier, a Scripps/UCSD alum (Earth Sciences, 2014) and current graduate student in the geosciences program at Scripps, spoke about UC San Diego’s top-notch research facilities across campus as well as his personal experience as a college student.
“UC San Diego and Scripps set you up really well to understand the things that will have an impact on the field,” he said.
CAMS student Hantau Wang, 17, said visiting labs, talking to graduate students, and interacting with professors were some trip highlights. He also enjoyed visiting the Sustainable Power and Energy Center at the Jacobs School of Engineering where researchers are working on making better batteries for a low-carbon future.
As the day drew to a close, Reeves left the students with some useful advice.
“No matter where you end up going to school, if you are in the STEM field—or any field for that matter—ask questions, talk to faculty and advisors, and don’t be afraid. Be bold. Get involved. Take it all in,” he said.
Although it’s uncertain where the TSSA students will end up going to college, one thing is certain: they are armed with the knowledge to succeed.
The Beckman Coulter Foundation supported graduate students’ participation in the 2015 TSSA program.