CCI Solar and West Side Science Club
The Westside Science Club (WSSC) is an out-of-school time opportunity that brings participant-directed STEM activities to under-resourced late-elementary and middle school students in low-income housing units in Los Angeles. WSSC and CCI Solar began a collaboration in 2012 with funding from the NSF to connect research scientists from Caltech with the underserved youth in the club. Another community partner, Wildwood School, provided high school students to act as near-peer mentors for the club members. CCI Solar's research on the efficient and economical conversion of solar energy into stored chemical fuel provides an entry point for informal science education activities designed to introduce pre-high school participants to basic chemistry and related STEM concepts such as physics and plant biology. Activities were largely student driven, though lessons were developed by the team of facilitators including the club's founder Ben Dickow, Wildwood teacher Levi Simons, and students, post-docs, and staff from Caltech. Each lesson was tied to CCI Solar's research through a mind-map of related chemistry concepts. The activities were mostly intended to be "maker-type" experiences that allowed the club members to follow their own interests and questions. Caltech students and postdocs from CCI Solar helped deliver activities while honing their science communication skills with the young WSSC audience. The team is currently adapting the model of this successful collaboration to develop another science club in a different Los Angeles community. Two-years of lessons developed from this project, an evaluation of the project by Kimberly Burtnyk of Science for Society, and a model on how to replicate such a program are available in the project final report below. This was a two-year pilot program that was completed in July 2014.