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Caltech Joins Local Schools in Celebration of STEM

Published on Monday, April 1, 2024 | 5:04 pm

Billed as an extravaganza of science, technology, engineering, robotics, medicine and health, and the environment, the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) ScienceFest delivered hands-on activities and inspiring demonstrations, with strong participation from Caltech and other STEM-focused institutions.

Aiming to inspire the next generation of scientists and innovators, parent volunteers partnered with the PUSD parent teacher association council to organize the annual community event, held this year on March 16, 2024.

Lead parent organizer Warren Skidmore, a former Caltech postdoctoral scholar, says this is one of the largest science festivals put on by a school district in the U.S. About 100 scientific, technical, health-related, environmental, and civic organizations offered exhibits and activities that packed the courtyards, main building, and cafeteria of John Muir High School. More than 10 organizations came from Caltech’s campus and JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA.

“It was wonderful to see PUSD able to have a second successful district-wide science event,” says Kitty Cahalan (PhD ’00), assistant director for educational outreach in Caltech’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (CTLO), which coordinated several booths. “The day was vibrant and exciting, and showed the many connections among the STEM resources in our community. It was fun to see so many parents in the district there to represent the scientific community.”

An array of Caltech organizations participated: Black Scientists and Engineers of Caltech, Caltech Admissions, Caltech Astro, LIGO, Caltech Women in Biology and Biological Engineering, the CTLO, and MEDLIFE’s Caltech chapter as well as JPL teams involved in mission design and navigation, Mars exploration, the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor telescope, and the Earth-observing NISAR satellite. Volunteers included Caltech students in astrophysics, bioengineering, chemical engineering, computer science, and physics.

Skidmore, who is an astrophysicist with the TMT Observatory Corporation, drove momentum for the event by inviting fellow PUSD parents to share their work there.

“We are in this community that does amazing things like build Mars rovers,” Skidmore says. He notes the many PUSD parents who are researchers, engineers, and members of the creative industries—all part of an interdependent web of technical and imaginative endeavors. The event is organized purely through requests, donations, and volunteers, he says.

“It’s a very diverse, altruistic community. Everyone is willing to contribute and do something that helps to set youngsters up for the future. People do it because they want to make their work accessible, it’s fun and beneficial, and everyone has a good time.”

Bioengineering graduate students Sal Ibarra (foreground) and Catherine Griffin (background) introduce children to microscopic worlds, helping them see items on microscope slides. The students also gave away foldable microscopes, visible in the foreground, to help families continue exploring.

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