Flames shot across the stage of the Lory Student Center Theatre Thursday as hundreds of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders cheered with excitement.
El Centro Student Services' 14th-annual Math, Science and Technology Day gave CSU undergraduates the opportunity to show local elementary school students what it is like to be a CSU student. The program, written by CSU professors and staff, included fire-eating, trick roping, science demonstrations, a magic show and Native American drummers. Organizers of this year's performance emphasized culture.
The theme involved the four major elements: earth, fire, wind and water. CSU staff and students used each element in science experiments, using a variety of household materials to show that being in college and involved with science, math and technology is within the elementary students' reach.
The performance was a collaboration of El Centro Student Services, the Center for Science, Mathematic and Technology Education (CSMATE), the Little Shop of Physics and several other campus organizations.
Dr. Stephen Thompson, professor of analytical chemistry at CSU and resident fire-eater, breathed fire to represent the eruption at the center of a human volcano. The performance relied heavily on student participation, calling for volunteers for nearly every demonstration.
"We are trying to build a connection in terms of the program," Thompson said.
Thompson said early connections to science are key to students' success. His demonstration told the story of a volcano that rose out of a field in Mexico, representing two of the four elements – earth and fire.
"These are the key elements for progress in our society," Thompson said.
Thompson said the demonstrations by CSU students were meant to stress the importance of deciding to go to college at a young age.
"Studies have shown that kids can do this," Thompson said. "It's no harder than anything else."
The performance gave undergraduates an opportunity to become involved in the community and have an impact outside of campus. Part of the presentation involved several students using blow driers to fill a trash bag balloon with hot air, lifting the balloon and its stuffed animal cargo to the theatre's ceiling. The undergraduates then used leaf blowers to lift elementary students on platforms, shoot toilet paper across the theatre and suspend a beach ball in mid-air.
Brian Jones, an instructor in the physics department and director of the Little Shop of Physics – the department's hands-on outreach program – said giving the students initiative to pursue science on their own is key to their success.
"I want them to see that (CSU) students aren't that much different than they are," Jones said.
Jones said the program relied on the help of CSU students to make the demonstrations happen.
"It gives them a chance to be role models, too," Jones said. "It gives them a chance to learn some science."
Jones said a lot of preparation was needed to make the science demonstrations work.
"You have to know a lot more," Jones said. "To make it look easy is hard."
Jones said he felt the need to get undergraduate students involved, and that the time students volunteer is important to helping younger students succeed.
"I don't think I could do this at any other school," Jones said. "I'm happy that dozens of CSU students gave up their morning to help kids."
A main focus of the program, said Arlene Nededog, director of undergraduate retention programs with the College of Natural Resources, is to help students become future scientists.
"Math, Science and Technology Day is an invigorating and exciting day for youth," Nededog said. "Science becomes a cool activity. Students ooh and ah at the 'cool science stuff.'"
Arlene helped organize the program and coordinate activities.
Desideria Lucero, a sixth-grader at Harris Bilingual Immersion School, said she enjoyed the performance by The Great Loudini, a local magician who gave his time to perform for the elementary students.
"I really wanted to see him do more tricks," Lucero said.
Lucero said she has attended several of the presentations in the past and that Brian Jones had left a great impression on her.
"I really want to work with him because I really love the Little Shop of Physics and everything about it," Lucero said.
After the performance of Native American drumming by Jan Ironcloud and family, students met in groups with undergraduate students in different majors to talk about college.
Travis Harr-Connole, a senior biochemistry major, said it is important for undergraduates to get involved.
"It's a good time," Harr-Connole said. "If they can see science and higher education is fun, it can help them continue toward higher education."