Reaching Out, Teaching Optics

    Date Posted: 
    Sunday, December 16, 2012

    Trin Riojas, coordinator at the NSF Center for Integrated Access Networks headquartered at the College of Optical Sciences, reported some recent activity from OSC's amazing volunteers, who are coordinated by an outreach committee consisting of J. Scott Tyo and representatives from OSC, SOCk, WiO and CIAN.

    Oct. 3: Tully Elementary School
    Gilbert Kogo, Trin Riojas and Chris Summitt

    • On October 3, OSC and CIAN returned to Tully Elementary, but this time we were invited to do presentations to not only the fifth grade class, but also the fourth grade. New to the school since we last visited was a classroom dedicated just to science. We were able to set up and have the students and their teachers come to our presentation during their class time.

      Both classes were filled with energetic, curious nine- and 10-year-olds who just kept pressing us for more than we had time for. They asked great questions and made amazing statements like "The rainbow is actually a circle."

      While it was the second time Chris and Trin were invited to Tully, it was Gilbert's first. He did so well that he has been invited back to speak to the refugee children from Africa with the hopes that he can inspire and encourage them to study science, technology, engineering and math.

    Nov. 3: Sunnyside Unified School District
    Clarissa Kenney, Kelsey Miller, Carolyn Reynolds and Trin Riojas

    • On Saturday, Nov. 3, Kelsey, Clarissa, Carolyn and Trin were invited to speak at a mini-conference hosted by UA’s Academic Success and Achievement Office. The conference was aimed at sixth grade girls and their female mentors from middle schools within the Sunnyside Unified School District, which is trying to increase the number of students who will graduate high school and go to college.

      Twenty-two girls and their mentors attended the conference and all attended our session, "Women in STEM Fields." Carolyn, Kelsey and Clarissa created a new PowerPoint presentation that depicted famous women scientists, inventions by women and careers in the STEM fields. They also explained levels of higher education that none of the sixth graders had any idea of — first a high school diploma, then college and then graduate school. It was quite surprising that one young girl actually knew what STEM stood for: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

      Besides a few optics demos, we had a great question-and-answer session. The sixth graders wanted to know what got our grad students interested in their fields, how many classes they had to take in college and what kinds of classes they had to take. Carolyn came up with the idea of name tags for the girls to fill in. They were pre-printed with "My name is ______________ and I will be the first woman______________." All the girls filled out their name tags and then read them out loud to the class. It was a definite hit!

    Nov. 28: Desert View High School
    Clarissa Kenney, Gilbert Kogo, Kelsey Miller, Shaun Pacheco, Carolyn Reynolds and Trin Riojas

    • On Nov. 28, OSC and CIAN had the opportunity to present optics to about 80 freshmen at Desert View High School. These students are in the Advancement Via Individual Determination classes. While these students have the idea that they want to go to college, they did not know what going to grad school really meant. Of course, we enlightened them. The first class was rather shy and hesitant about volunteering for any of the demos. The second class readily volunteered, and some were disappointed when they did not get chosen. The third class walked into the room ready to volunteer before we even started because they had heard about us from the previous two classes. And even though there was a fire drill during our last presentation (a presenter’s nightmare!), we had some really good questions and dialog with the students regarding classes to take, options for funding their education and potential careers.

      Our grad students did a terrific job and, because they are each studying different aspects of optics, they were able to give the high school students a broad range of personal experiences in our question-and-answer session.

      The teacher was very supportive. Because we invited all the students to Laser Fun Day (Dec. 1), she decided to give every student who attended Laser Fun Day extra credit.

    Nov. 30: Johnson Elementary
    Kelsey Miller and Trin Riojas

    • On Nov. 30, CIAN and OSC went to Johnson Elementary School, a pet project I adopted a few years ago. I partner with Tucson Country Day School’s National Junior Honor Society middle schoolers to make a difference at Johnson Elementary, a kindergarten through second grade school. While I collect donated books from Bookman’s, the ninjas (as the middle-schoolers call themselves) raise money to buy school supplies to fill the Johnson Elementary teachers’ wish lists. Then every semester, we travel to Johnson Elementary where the ninjas read to all of the 350 elementary students. They also play simple math games, while a grad student and I do optics demonstrations. 

      The elementary students love having the ninjas read to them. Usually one ninja reads to two elementary students at a time. In the end, we get to introduce optics to all 350 elementary students and 36 ninjas — and this year we even had four University High School freshmen who participated. 

      If you haven’t been around five- to seven-year-olds, be forewarned: they are very fast!  Kelsey was swarmed when showing the pig optical illusion demo. They were so enthusiastic and excited, they surrounded her in a blink of an eye  Their ooh’s and ah’s (at all the right moments) were just adorable. And did you know, according to one six-year-old boy, that you go to college to get a wife? Kids say the darndest things!