The program pairs college students with children attending the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). During the program, the young adults introduce a science theme to the youth; in 2019, the theme is aerospace.
Kim designed the curriculum, which progresses the children incrementally from building helicopters to gliders and finally rockets. They learn how weight and building materials can affect the flight of each and can return at later date to launch their rockets outside. “I see it as strengthening our community partnerships,” says Kim. “It’s a fun way of learning science.”
Sean, age 10, concurs. “It was amazing! The adults were great, the kids were friendly and the stuff we did was so much fun.” Just as amazing was the reaction Sean’s mom noticed from her once-reluctant scholar. “Yesterday after the 4-H Aerospace event, he explained every piece of material he brought home and how it worked. He continued to talk about all the activities that he did. You have no idea how pleased I was to see him so intrigued and excited about the whole day.”
The program targets elementary school aged children, as data shows STEM interest needs to be piqued before middle school, especially for girls, says Kim. As underserved children may not have access to STEM programs to the same degree as their wealthier peers, STEM Ambassadors fills a crucial need. Kim also shares these STEM programs with local libraries, so they can implement them.
To become a STEM Ambassador, applicants must be a rising college freshman or current college student, either attending UMass-Amherst /UMass-Amherst-Mount Ida or be a 4-H alum at another university. STEM Ambassadors don’t need to be science majors and often pursue fields such as psychology. They typically deliver the program about 15-20 hours per week, often pairing it with another summer job, says Kim.
Though the children’s eyes light up as they build and launch their rockets, Kim believes they benefit most from the “soft skills” they learn, like teamwork, which they need to “set them up for success in the future,” she says.
Plans for the 2020 program are already underway, with a theme of plants and animals tentatively titled Tales and Tails. “We’re going to ramp it up and change some activities going forward,” says Kim.