Engineering a High School Engineering Program in LA

When I first came across a job posting for Iridescent I thought ‘how cool is that?’ It was exactly what I was and have been looking for most of my career. It seems like such a simple concept really – If you want to teach people about engineering, engineers are the best people for the job!

I am a former aerospace engineer who is passionate about communicating science and engineering to the public and children so Iridescent was the perfect fit for me. My job was to create a high school program in South LA to teach high school students about engineering. Basically, I get paid to do what I’m most passionate about.

Often programs function to encourage kids to be excited about engineering and pursuing it as a career while others focus solely on academic prep. I believe that both are vital. It is not possible for Iridescent to do both – at this point at least – we are more of the get kids excited about engineering variety. What we can do is try to make connections for our students to other programs in the area that do focus on preparing students academically. We can also help make engineering more accessible and instill them with confidence that they can succeed in a science or engineering career.

The other thing we can do is to make them aware that physics and upper level math classes are essential when applying to engineering programs. Students may not know that by not taking physics or a certain math class that they are decreasing their chance of success of completing an engineering degree.

It is especially meaningful to me to serve the South LA community because there is a great need for this type of program in the area. And since LA has such a large pool of engineering companies and Iridescent is close to the University of Southern California, I try to expose them to engineering professionals and real life engineering problems and research.

Each week the LA Iridescent team works with high school students to teach them more about engineering through hands-on project building and design. Reading comments from the high school students like the ones below make me think we are on the right track. Students are challenged, engaged, and persistent. All key ingredients to making a great engineer!

Through Iridescent’s diverse offering of high school programs in LA – Family Science Night, Summer Camp, high school after school programs, and Technovation – retention across high school program has been robust. All of our summer participants returned to Iridescent in Fall 2011 and 60% of students in Fall programming returned for Spring 2012 programs.

Retention is focused on under-resourced schools with little exposure to engineering and STEM careers.

Poverty Heat Map of Los Angeles, CA. Recruitment is centered on schools with areas most in need.