How TIPsters Are Helping LATTC Engage More Students in STEM

How TIPsters Are Helping LATTC Engage More Students in STEM

By Nico Rosario

What do tacos, soap, and fly swatters have in common? The Intern Project (TIP) interns will soon find out as they repurpose their homes into makeshift laboratories for LA Trade Tech College’s (LATTC) Applied Sciences department this summer.

When Dr. Artemio Navarro and Dr. Martin Diaz of LATTC’s Applied Sciences department initially decided to take on interns, they started with two inquiry questions: What are the best practices to engage and retain community college students studying STEM, with an emphasis on students of color, and how could they use TIP interns to investigate this for them? But once COVID-19 hit, they knew they would also have to ask another more practical question: Where would students conduct their experiments?

They came up with “The Science of …” series, a project that asks LATTC students to investigate the science behind household items and commonly used products and tools. “The idea emanated from Dr. Velveth Klee (another scientist in the Applied Sciences department), who has done so much work on inspiring future generations of STEM students, and we wanted to see how we could build on her idea,” Dr. Navarro said. Because they weren’t sure what their students might find interesting, they decided to turn the reins over to their TIP interns to research topics, provide learning tools, and advise the instructors on ways to make the material palatable to their incoming college students. This opportunity will not only allow our interns to help build college-level curriculum that will be implemented by the department in the fall, but it also expands their knowledge in engineering, chemistry, biotechnology, and physics.

It sounds a little daunting for a group of high schoolers, right? But here’s where the project gets innovative, and fun! Because of ongoing COVID-19 precautions, the student’s lab will be their home and the materials they’ll be experimenting with include tacos, soap, laundry detergent, fly swatters, and mirrors. The aim is to meet students (literally) where they are and to allow for an individual, self-guided learning experience. How does that also help our interns? It gives them some insight into what it’s like to be a scientist—how they use their own natural curiosity to create an inquiry question and follow that lead to its conclusion. “Because we are not only their employers for the summer, but also coming from an education perspective, we wanted to create an experience that translates directly into the world our students are living in and give them the tools they can use to find the answers they’re looking for,” said Dr. Navarro.

How might this summer change our interns’ perceptions about the world they live in? How many of them might shift their own focus to science once they return to school in the fall? What bonds might they form with their supervisors that could lead to a career in applied science? “We are hoping to not only broaden these interns’ experiences with science, but also introduce them to our department and let them know that LATTC is here as a resource for them,” said Dr. Diaz. This sentiment mirrors one of the key objectives of the Career Pathway Connections grant, awarded to LA Promise Fund in 2019 as part of an initiative to connect more South Los Angeles students to college and career opportunities with LATTC. “We hope that with this internship, alongside dual enrollment credit for all our TIP interns, this summer will deepen LAPF’s partnership with LATTC and encourage more of students to take advantage of what LATTC has to offer,” said Leslie Aaronson, Director of Career Pathway Connections at LA Promise Fund.

Read the first blog in our TIP Summer Series.