Collage with headshots of the six speakers and text reading "USC Wonderkids" Fall 2021 STEM SpeakersWonderkids’ Online Success Continues in Fall 2021

The Joint Educational Project’s after-school WonderKids Program just concluded another successful semester of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career-based learning. While the switch to conducting our programs over Zoom during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a challenge, it has opened the door for WonderKids to be able to realize its full potential. Our other JEP STEM Education Programs serve our community’s students during their school day, necessitating a hybrid format for this semester (for details, see our articles on YSP and MSP in this volume). WonderKids, on the other hand, has always been an after-school program, allowing us to keep it entirely virtual, and continue serving our students in their own homes. This decision has greatly broadened our reach. In the past WonderKids had been held in as many as 3 of JEP’s parner schools each semester, serving approximately 30 students. This semester saw sign-ups of students from 16 of JEP’s partner schools, and regular attendance of over 60 students, most of whom would never have had the opportunity to experience the program in previous years.

While our reach has expanded, WonderKids’ goal of connecting with students from as young as Kindergarten up to 5th grade and educating them on the true breadth of possible career paths in the STEM fields has held true. We have been able to deliver engaging, hands-on STEM activities that have been a hit with both our students and their parents! “I really like the topics the program has presented to the students and have exposed them to during the Fall. “ said Tasha Wagner. Another parent, Patricia Perez, had this to say about WonderKids this Fall: “Nicole (5th Grade) and Sophia (2nd grade) always look forward to Wonderkids. They love their teachers and speakers. They enjoy all the activities. Nicole enjoys drawing the activities and Sophia enjoys building and putting things together. “ Zhilei Shen similarly expressed “My boy enjoyed WonderKids a lot. He loves science, so he is excited about the topics WonderKids offers.” We would like to thank these and all of our WonderKids’ parents and guardians for allowing us the opportunity to teach their children!

This semester our WonderKids’ students explored six STEM fields: environmental science, physics, sports medicine, paleontology, occupational therapy, and pulmonology. Each week, on the first day of the unit,  students investigated the core concepts of one of these fields with hands-on activities, developed and led by our amazing team of WonderKids’ Teaching Assistants (TAs). On the second day of each unit the students were introduced to a STEM professional working in the field of the week. These scientists and engineers spoke with students about their experience, how they began working in their field, and what their chosen field is all about!  Our virtual format also allowed us increased flexibility in our invitations to our guest speakers, giving us the opportunity to introduce our students to STEM professionals not only from the Los Angeles area but from anywhere! We are truly grateful to all eight of the amazing STEM professionals who volunteered their time to visit with our WonderKids students! To learn more about our wonderful visitors, and the subjects they spoke about, see below!

This semester has been a great one for WonderKids, and we are excited to see how much further we can reach next semester, as we plan to keep the program in its current format!

Physics Week: Wendy Matinez and Keith Burrell. Wendy & Keith are both high-level engineers and managers at Raytheon Technologies. They led our students in an activity exploring the physics of flight, and which design features allowed paper airplanes to fly the farthest.

A collection of some of our favorite reactions to Dr. Catherine Crowley’s experiment of the senses. Top Left: Ian Escobar (5th Grade), Top Right: Neele Ashley (3rd Grade), Bottom Left: Dr. Catherine Crowley, Bottom Right: Sophia Plancarte (2nd Grade)
A collection of some of our favorite reactions to Dr. Catherine Crowley’s experiment of the senses. Top Left: Ian Escobar (5th Grade), Top Right: Neele Ashley (3rd Grade), Bottom Left: Dr. Catherine Crowley, Bottom Right: Sophia Plancarte (2nd Grade)

Occupational Therapy Week: Dr. Catherine Crowley. Dr. Crowley is a clinical doctor and professor here at USC. She joined us to talk about her journey to and work in occupational therapy and guided the students through an exploration of their senses–the five we all think about, and some others that come up often in Occupational Therapy!

Environmental Science Week: Justin Gaffney. Justin, a PhD candidate in Marine Environmental Biology studying at USC, joined us to discuss the ways that man-made pollution can impact life in the worlds’ oceans and his own work on the subject. After his talk, the students were able to correctly identify from satellite images whether a body of water was experiencing a phytoplankton bloom!

Paleontology Week: Kiersten Formoso. WonderKids students got to design their own dinosaurs with Kiersten, a PhD candidate studying paleontology at USC! Kiersten spoke with us about how she became interested in Paleontology, as well as about her work on how certain animals, such as the ancestors of modern whales, transitioned from walking on land to living in the oceans.

Pulmonology Week: Dr. Ite Offringa. Dr. Offringa is an Associate Professor at USC’s Keck Medical School, and a researcher at Keck’s Norris Cancer Center. While leading our students through drawing out a detailed diagram of the respiratory system, Dr. Offringa shared about her desire to become a pulmonologist in order to help those suffering from lung cancer, and about her research lab which has recently been able to grow healthy lung tissue outside of the human body!

Sports Medicine Week: Dr. Noom Sirimaturos. As of the writing of this piece, Sports Medicine week is still in the future. We cannot wait to see what Dr. Sirimaturos, an Orthopedic and Sports Clinical Specialist, will share with our students!