Oct 112011
Authors: Andrew Carrera

Fourth grade minority students will be taught Mayan math, Aztec astronomy and the botany of Latin spices Wednesday as part of a culturally relevant Math, Science and Technology (MST) Day organized by the university.

Fifteen CSU colleges, offices, programs and departments have collaborated for the 21st annual event, which seeks to inspire the 300 attendees from local Harris, Irish, Laurel and Putnam Elementary Schools.

Held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Natural Environmental Science Building, students, faculty and staff will lead nine to 11 workshops for the 300 expected fourth graders.

Cesar Fuentes, a teacher at Harris Elementary School who has participated in MST Day twice before, sees the event not only as a nod to the importance of multiculturalism, but also as an engaging way to teach math, science and technology.

“I think it really celebrates the bicultural mentality that we have here at Harris, but it also just shows how long, how important (these fields) have been throughout history,” he said.

“The fact that they’re hands on really makes them come alive.”

Nisse Lee, coordinator of outreach and assessment at CSU’s Little Shop of Physics and organizer of MST Day, said she and her fellow event organizers chose the four participating elementary schools, “because they have a higher percentage of kids from Hispanic background.”

“People from that background don’t get into the (science, technology, engineering and technology) field as much as we’d like them to,” she said.

Caucasians make up 72 percent of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, compared to six percent of Hispanics, according to a 2009 U.S. Census Bureau report.

To Nisse, these statistics make little sense. Hispanic culture and STEM fields have always been intertwined. The Mayans, for example, constructed a highly sophisticated number system that historians suggest contained features more advanced than any other in the world at the time.

“We want to show them there’s really no reason why people from a Hispanic background should be underrepresented in the STEM field because math and science are deeply integrated into their culture,” Nisse said.

Reaching students at the fourth grade level is critical to these efforts. Collaborators for the project hope to plant seeds of interest in the fields covered by MST Day, encouraging students to pursue degrees in them one day.

“By fourth grade, if a student doesn’t like math, he’s probably not going to like it for the rest of his academic journey,” said Rich Salas, associate director of CSU’s Hispanic culture center, El Centro.

After attending MST Day, Salas added, “Wow, it can really spark a fire under them. They start looking at STEM from a different more exciting perspective, which is cool.”

And by inspiring fourth graders to one day graduate from college with an education in one of the subjects, the organizers of MST Day hope the event’s participants will find employment within their field.

“At the surface level, as a nation, we will be able to meet the demands of STEM–related professions in our own backyard, as well as global demands for these professions,” Salas said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that one to two million new technology jobs will be created in U.S. between now and 2016.

“It’s to show these kids, hey, it’s exciting,” Salas said. “You can do it. There’s a bright future for you when you earn a STEM degree. There’s a demand for it, and we want you to be a part of that process, a part of contributing to the STEM field.”

Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:16 pm

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