A Los Altos teen has created an organization dedicated to teaching preschool and elementary students more about STEM through workshops with hands-on activities and discussion.
Jessica Young, a rising senior at Los Altos High School, came up with the idea for STEMpower during her sophomore year and began leading workshops in February at Almond School through a joint initiative with the YMCA of Silicon Valley.
“I decided to combine them together (so) I could teach students about some of the passions that I enjoy, such as computer science or other STEM-related topics,” said Young, who also tutors elementary students in math, is involved with the WiSTEM (Women in STEM) club and takes AP Computer Science at Los Altos High.
Prior to the pandemic, Young led hourlong workshops at Almond, joined by Los Altos High classmates May Jiang and Allison Hong. They put together a Google slides lecture and guided the students through two to three activities. At the end, the students talked through discussion questions with each other. Topics included evolution of animals, Python computer programming, the environment, space and chemistry.
“I really like the smile in their eyes, like when they widen in surprise, or when they’re really into something and they’re, like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know this was a thing,’” Young said.
Young added that her favorite activity occurred during the density lesson when students experimented with layering drinks depending on how much sugar was in each drink. They filled water bottles with mango juice, fruit punch and lemonade, with mango juice at the bottom because it had the most sugar, and lemonade at the top.
Since the shelter-in-place began in March, Young has found a new way to continue STEMpower. After reaching out to Daniel Koba, the YMCA’s executive director of youth development, she found a solution. STEMpower began leading workshops virtually, but this time to a new group of kids: the children of El Camino Hospital doctors.
“Since a lot of families or parents are working, they don’t have a lot of time to spend with their children, so through these videos we’ve created and posted online, they can entertain themselves while also learning some educational info,” Young said.
At first it was difficult to adjust to the virtual workshops on top of adjusting to life and school at home, Young explained. She said one of the hardest parts has been creating content for such a wide age range, 3-12. But in transitioning to online workshops, Young has also realized how she can work to expand STEMpower.
“I want to possibly expand it to other places in the U.S., not just in the Bay Area,” she said. “Hopefully when the shelter-in-place is lifted and we’re all safe and able to go back to school, I want to reach out to different schools and host more workshops.”
Young hopes the STEMpower students are learning about the wide range of possibilities and careers in STEM.
“They’re not stuck to one path or a few certain paths that they only know – there’s so much out there that they can do in the future,” she said.
Young noted that in the year it took to launch STEMpower, she has learned how important making connections is.
“I’m a person who’s kind of shy, so I don’t necessarily enjoy or I’m not used to reaching out to strangers or people I don’t know that well,” she said. “After this experience, I’m more comfortable reaching out to others and asking for help.”
Young also has come to realize what she’s capable of.
“If I set my mind to it and I’m really passionate about something that I want to complete or do, I can get it done,” she said.
Young, Jiang, Hong and new teammate Margaret Capetz are now working with the YMCA to put together a summer schedule and figuring out next steps to keep the virtual workshops going.
For more information, visit stempowerus.org.