“Being a EE scientist was like seeing the world through a new set of eyes again. It reminded me of the joy of seeing something new for the first time. I always came away with more energy than I left. These kids want to learn. They want to do real science and see the world in new ways. Lasers have become part of people’s lives either through entertainment, the news or a myriad of invisible ways that help create life as we know it. Most kids never get to play with a laser directly or do science with one. I am a scientist that uses lasers to help see the world in a way we as people cannot do on our own. We cannot touch the clouds and atmospheric particles I want to measure. Explaining this idea to kids who have never stopped to think about ‘exploring’ the world in this way always made me smile. You could see the light bulb in their heads turn on when they flipped the laser’s switch and saw the numbers on the sensor change as we shot a laser though cloud they had just created with milk in water.”
Over the past ten years, Earth Explorers has reached nearly 1,000 students who have attended 42 programs across three middle schools.
While we may only work with 35 students each semester, the impact on those students is immense.
Many former students credit Earth Explorers with being the catalyst that propelled them into studying STEM fields in college and beyond. When the high school that many of our students attend opened a STEM track, our students were the first to sign up and graduate from that program. It is not uncommon for current Earth Explorers students on field trips at local college campuses to run into Earth Explorers alumni who are beaming, proud to share with the group that they’re now majoring in a STEM field.
The impact and success of the Earth Explorers program is not measured in increased performance on standardized tests. We look for shifts in how our students perceive their own abilities:
- Do our students feel like they belong in a lab? On a college campus?
- Have they developed enough grit and determination to persevere when their computer crashes during the editing process?
- Were they able to troubleshoot and work together with students who are different from themselves throughout the semester?
- Did they lerarn how professional scientists and engineers have had to do the same?
- Did they see themselves in the Earth Explorers Scientist they worked with?
We see success when our students start sitting together at lunch across traditional race lines that had divided them at the start of the semester. We hear it when our students tell us that they used to assume they’d take on whatever low wage job their parents have, but now they want to be an electrical engineer like their Earth Explorers Scientist. We feel it when our students get to hear their native language, Spanish for many, spoken by their Earth Explorers Scientist in a scientific context. We see it during the creative process when students are pulling on a diverse range of skill sets to create a finished product that is both scientific and creative. We hear it, even more, when our students exclaim in shock that scientists are real people “just like us.”
“As a scientist and a communicator of science, I have a true appreciation for the Earth Explorers program – not only does it inspire the students to engage with a scientist and learn more about scientific research, but the students also get hands-on learning about videography and filmmaking and how to present the science in a fun and accessible way.”
“Thank you so much for letting us learn about your science and coming to your lab. There were so many cool things we learned that we will never forget. Our favorite part was filming all the action film because we were able to actually make a movie about your science.”
“Students that have thought college is not for them, have gotten so excited visiting college campuses, meeting with college students, and going into professional labs and then hearing about the career path of those scientists! These students are currently in high school and still come back to visit and mention the impact that Earth Explorers has had on their decision to major in the sciences!”
“I had never met a scientist outside of Earth Explorers before so getting into it, meeting all these new mentors was really cool. … The first time I got into this program I thought I was going to meet all these old, grumpy scientists but no, there’re just humans like us! I mean they’re fun, they like to experience stuff. That’s really cool, I didn’t really like expect that from them.”
“I’m so glad to hear that EE is still going strong. It made a bigger impact on me in my journey as a scientist than most other things I can think of. From someone who came from no scientific background, meeting so many scientists and seeing their work really brought the possibility of doing science down to earth for me.”