Author Archives: lmenascodavis

About lmenascodavis

Lauren is currently seeking dual master’s degrees in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT-Austin and Public Health from the UT Health Science Center. This summer Lauren is interning with the KDK-Harman Foundation, a private family foundation in Austin, Texas which aims to fund afterschool and summer educational programs for children living in impoverished areas.

The End is Near

Overall I have really enjoyed my experience this summer at the KDK-Harman Foundation. Here’s a feel good story to illustrate some of the unexpected good the summer camps do. There was a mother who had contacted one of the summer grantees and asked if her child could come to the camp. The mother explained that her daughter loves science, but her daughter is diagnosed with selective mood disorder. Therefore her daughter doesn’t talk in public. The severe anxiety her daughter experiences in social situations is expressed through her silence. The mother said don’t worry about her and don’t try to make her talk, she is perfectly fine and she’ll do everything asked of her….she just won’t talk. The camp let the little girl into the camp and during the second week the little girl was there the campers went on a field trip. The campers were divided into teams and had to solve a puzzle in the least amount of time. As the seconds ticked down the little girl got so excited and into the competition she shouted, “HURRY!”. Then she immediately looked shocked and didn’t say anything after that. This is a real testament to the camp culture that this little girl who won’t say anything became so relaxed she surprised herself and opened up a little bit.

There are many other stories that I have been told and witnessed that are similar to the one above. Students are finding out that it is possible to be a doctor or an engineer, they’re even figuring out that maybe engineering isn’t for them as a lifelong career, but hey, it was a unexpected good time. They’re also finding out that the struggles and frustration that comes with video game programming robotics, and most importantly, that overcoming the frustration they feel only makes the successes even sweeter.

With only a week and a half left at the KDK-Harman Foundation things have been fast and furious. My main focus has been organizing the shared summer learning workshop, dubbed Meet*Share*Learn (to the Power of STEM) or MSL(STEM) for short. I have been planning this workshop since May, so there actually isn’t much left to do. I have witnessed, firsthand, the efficiency and effectiveness of planning ahead…Hopefully,  I can transfer these new found anti-procrastination skills to my upcoming course in the fall semester. We’ll see….

As I have mentioned before the MSL(STEM) workshop is an opportunity for the non-profit organizations to come together and share their achievements and challenges this summer. Many of them are running into similar challenges such as getting students transported to the program and then keeping them engaged with interesting material so that they want to return for every day of camp. I am extremely excited about this workshop because this is the foundation’s opportunity to share our observations and results from our site visit evaluations. I developed the evaluation form and implemented the use of the form at all 11 programs this summer. I just completed my own solo drop-in visits on all 11 grantees. A product of these evaluations is a large matrix encompassing important indicators of successful summer programs. This is it, the findings from the analysis of this matrix is where the foundation can really help the grantees become stronger for next summer. The results from this evaluation tool pilot has been a long and laborious process with many revisions needed for next summer’s implementation. I feel good about this pilot though, and it’s been interesting experience to implement my first evaluation tool.

The icing on the cake for this workshop is the foundation’s recruitment of engineers, medical technologists, doctors, and chemists for the event. We wanted to bring together non-profit organizations and STEM professionals for several reasons.

1) Non-profits can understand the needs of the STEM workforce pipeline.

2) Provide an introduction for possible STEM industry internships for young people.

3) Provide an introduction to corporate funding for NPOs.

I am especially looking forward to this aspect of the workshop because these company representatives are really passionate about STEM education and this could broaden the horizons of the afterschool and summer programming for economically disadvantaged children. In my next (AKA last) post I’ll detail the fun and excitement of the workshop and the final outcomes from my internship.


STEM-ing the Summer Learning Loss

So far this summer I have been constantly surprised how excited kids are getting about health, fitness, engineering, computer programming, and even math of all subjects. Over the past two weeks it’s been pretty exciting at the foundation. There’s two parts of my internship I wanted to share.

STEM Fun: Part One

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference here in Austin. The conference focused on how to create a highly skilled and robust workforce for the variety of STEM careers. Attendees were from all different backgrounds from teachers to technology corporations to non-profits to school district administrators. I learned so much from the panel discussions at the conference. Here are several highlights (among many) I learned from the conference:

  • STEM jobs are projected to grow 17% by 2018 and 71% of new STEM jobs will be in computing.
  • The MIND Research Institute teaches kids math solely through games without using any words making math accessible to all students, even ones with learning disabilities. Students’ test scores have significantly increased for thousands of students through this program.
  • There is a movement to completely stop lecturing to children and “flip the classroom”. A “Flipped Classroom” emphasizes project-based learning for kids.
  • UTeach, the STEM teacher training program within UT Austin is a nationally recognized program that has become a model for other schools across the nation. UTeach has trained thousands of STEM subject teachers.

You can learn more about the conference here:

Also, here’s an interesting article about the pathway to training in STEM careers

Side note: If you look to the left of the robot in the main picture above the article you’ll see me! I am the girl in the black cardigan and dark hair staring at the robot. That robot was really cool because that model is used in Afghanistan to defuse bombs, so soldiers don’t have to risk their lives to do so.

STEM Fun: Part Two

The second fun part of my internship is getting to visit all the summer camps the foundation’s grantees provide. The programs have some really great curricula planned like designing and programming video games, programming and building robots, and designing a city from top to bottom. Kids are actually designing cities where they include the proper zoning for their city, infrastructure, taxes, creating revenue streams, and designing power plants. East Austin College Prep Academy Summer STEM Institute had Astronaut Jose Hernandez come speak to the class. Hernandez’s experiences really resonated with this population of kids because he grew up as a farmer, frequently moving from town to town with his family. He applied to be an astronaut for NASA 12 times before he was finally accepted. The kids were really inspired by his perseverance and learned about the great success that comes with hard work. During another week at the same camp a reptile farm was brought in and the kids got to hold all different types of snakes and lizards. Changing Expectations took their campers to the Google Austin Campus and Applied Materials.

As we visit the different programs the foundation’s grantees provide for kids we’ve observed some common themes. One of the recurring challenges for these STEM summer camp programs is getting kids to come to camp in the first place. Getting kids to the camps is difficult for a variety of reasons.

1)      The summer time is a time where many families are busy moving to another apartment complex or house.

2)      Many kids are going to Mexico to visit their families for the summer.

3)      Transportation is difficult for parents when they are working multiple jobs or do not own their own car.

4)      Parents do not value summer learning. They do not think it’s important for their children to go to these camps.

5)      Kids have to go to summer school instead in order for them to go on to the next grade.

…and the list goes on from there. So you can see that for a variety of reasons many that are out of the control of the grantees getting kids to camp is hard. It’s not impossible though. Foundation Communities builds affordable housing apartment complexes and then attaches children’s’ learning centers to them. The learning centers are open and brimming with afterschool and summer programming for kids of all ages. Attendance is not a problem and the parents value their kids being at the camps. In fact, testing scores have gone up for kids in the learning centers because of the  academically rigorous programs that the kids have access to.

A positive theme that is pervasive in all camps is the stories the teachers and parents tell of their kids coming home and telling anyone and everyone about everything they learned in camp. Despite the variety of activities in the camps, every camp sees this happening. The kids go home and teach their parents what they learned all evening long, and then they wake up early, excited to go back to camp. Spanish-speaking kids go home and tell their parents about building bridges or computer programming all in fluent English. Parents are calling the school to ask if they can come on the field trips or just come and sit in class. Parents tell of their kids wanting to be astronauts, lawyers, and engineers because of the experiences in camp this summer.

The teachers tell us about all of the “firsts” the kids are experiencing this summer. Most of the students have never designed a bridge, built a robot, been exposed to computer programming, or seen a real fossil. By the end of one of the camps students had designed multiple video games and could tell me, in great detail, all about how the solar power plant of their city operated.

So the overall takeaway for me over the last two weeks is that we need more people working in STEM fields, and contrary to traditional thinking the disciplines such as math, civil engineering, robotics, and ecology can be designed to be really interesting and really fun. A lot of kids living in areas of high rates of poverty can love these topics and be good at them if they are given the opportunity to experience it.

I thought I would end with one last story that, to me, embodies just how much students are expanding beyond their everyday world. One girl that I met told me about her experiences seeing all of the snakes brought in with the reptile farm. I asked her what she thought was the coolest part of the reptile farm. She told me, “I thought there was only one type of snake. I didn’t know there were so many different kinds of snakes out there.”

Summer Learning to the Power of STEM

This summer I am interning at KDK-Harman Foundation, a private family foundation that aims to fund out-of-school-time (OST) science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs for at-risk kids in grades K-12. As the summer intern I have been responsible for creating evaluation metrics to measure the effectiveness of each summer STEM program. This is not an easy thing to do because a) OST STEM programs are a relatively new thing to provide for students and b) there are not clear evaluation metrics established for out-of-school programs much less STEM programs throughout the entire nation.

So to step back a bit, why does this matter in the first place? Why STEM OST programs?

STEM OST programs increase the interest in STEM topics, increase the likelihood that a student will graduate from high school AND go on to college, and increase the likelihood that students will move on to a STEM career.

According to a recent study highlighted in the Austin American Statesman (you can go to the article here: last month the STEM industries and companies in Central Texas will only be able to fill about 25% of the available STEM jobs. There are huge numbers of STEM jobs going unfilled even today. Only about 75% of all Texas high school graduates showed college readiness in math in 2012. This percentage is lower for economically disadvantaged students (63% showed college readiness).  STEM careers are one of the fastest growing areas of employment across the United States and by preparing young people now we can ensure a strong economy in the future.

Thus far I have visited 4 different STEM programs around the city of Austin and kids are doing everything from designing video games to building bridges to designing airplane wings to programming and building robots.  The programs work hard to provide a free summer camp that includes buses to transport the kids, engaging the parents and letting them know why this is important for their children, and provide free lunch and breakfast every day of the camp for every student.

The kids love what they’re doing and there are endless stories of the kids going home and teaching their parents something new about robots or bridges or aerospace engineering or medicine and the list goes on and on. The parents have even gotten excited to the point that they asked the camps if they can also come on the field trips. And these field trips are really cool. This summer kids get to visit the Google Austin campus, an airplane hangar, Tech Shop, and Applied Materials among many other destinations. One program has the kids touring around to look at all the different types of bridges around town so they can come back to school and design their own bridge.

The next step for me is to compile our evaluations of these programs and give the programs some feedback on how they did: what they could do better and what they did really well based on our indicators. We also want to use this data to learn how we would like to shape our summer STEM program incubator/accelerator.

The summer looks exciting: fifteen more site visits are on the calendar and the U.S. News and World Report STEM Solutions Conference is held in Austin this summer.  More on these events in the next post.