Tributes to David Liu, UCI Engage Graduate Student "Future of the Field" Awardee
El Sol Science and Arts Academy of Santa Ana
On Thursday, March 1, El Sol Science and Arts Academy partnered with graduate students from the UCI School of Education to host the first ever STEM based make-and-take Family Science Night. Spearheaded by David Da Wei Liu, there were over 20 volunteers, 12 classroom teachers, and over 130 families in attendance – adding up to over 350 people. Although the event was the first of its kind, it was overwhelmingly popular, engaging a wide variety of families across the elementary grade levels. Not only were families granted the opportunity to build and fly a drone alongside their children, they were able to take the drone home – extending the learning beyond the scope of the event. The event was designed around a simple yet powerful idea: bring families together, provide them with an opportunity to engage in the engineering process, and witness how curiosity, imagination, and excitement come together to create a unique and meaningful experience for students and their families. The families in attendance represent a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. For some families, purchasing a drone is challenging. One parent commented that if it had not been for the event, her boys may have never had the opportunity to build and fly a drone. Most importantly, it also empowered some of our young girls who were joined by their fathers in the process. The enthusiasm and energy in the building was remarkable. Family Science Night also created the space for families to connect with university students. By empowering our students to think about college early, we increase their chances of long term success. Through the work that David has done with our families and our students, specifically our 5th graders, students have been inspired to think about college and careers in the field of science. We are both grateful and inspired by the work that David is doing with our young scholars.
Project CRYSTAL is a sustained partnership between UCI Schools of Education and Biological Sciences, UCI’s Center for Environmental Biology, Crystal Cove Conservancy, Crystal Cove State Park, and local 5th grade students and their teachers. The goals of the partnership include: a) involving youth in science research related to ecological restoration, b) incorporating ongoing learning research into the State Park to advance knowledge of science learning, c) incorporating ongoing science research into the State Park to inform the State Park’s adaptive management decisions, and d) providing leadership and guidance to managers and educators at other State Parks for citizen science implementation.
To those ends, Project CRYSTAL engages 5th grade students from underserved communities in 140-170 contact hours that include participation in authentic environmental research to inform important land management decisions. The program consists of a research tested curriculum aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and designed to foster systems thinking in youth participants. It also includes a series of teacher professional development opportunities designed to prepare teachers to work with ecological researchers, local land managers, and their students in the context of ecological research.
As tomorrow’s decision-makers, today’s youth must build the integrated science knowledge and systems thinking capabilities that allow them to understand the complexity of natural systems and the role of STEM research in managing those systems. One goal of STEM education is to educate future citizens so they are capable of navigating complex scientific concerns, understanding complex environmental issues, and acting in ways that maintain and protect Earth’s life-supporting ecological systems. STEM knowledge, an understanding of science practices, and the ability to think in terms of systems can serve as important tools for making informed decisions about the natural world. Project CRYSTAL aims to design, implement, and study an environment that supports students’ learning by providing access to the tasks, tools, and participation structures associated with research, thus engaging learners in doing science related to significant problems of interest to ecologists and local land managers.
As a member of the Project CRYSTAL team, David’s work was critical to the success of the program. He was instrumental in developing and maintaining the relationship with our school partners, spending countless hours working with teachers, students, and parents in classrooms and in the field. He also worked with other project partners to vision and then to implement our vision of the program. David participated all aspects of the learning research, including working with faculty, other graduate students, and undergraduate students to gather and analyze data on student engagement and learning and writing manuscripts for publication. Because of his work during the initial year, Project CRYSTAL has grown in the number of people impacted by the program.
UCI School of Education Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience (SoE DECADE)
SoE DECADE is committed to promoting equity focused community engagement within the UCI campus and into our neighboring communities. David embodies this commitment and is an exceptional example of someone who bridges the university and local community, as well as research and practice in engaging youth of color, particularly girls in STEM in productive and meaningful ways. David’s approach is guided by the idea that STEM can be used to improve our communities when we collaborate with our peers.
Over the last two years David has spearheaded an effort to develop and implement an afterschool program in Santa Ana to support students’ engagement and interest in STEM. Through this effort, David has enlisted the help of 13 undergraduate research assistants, six of them from Latinx communities and mentored them through the development of the program. David worked with his advisor to develop relationships and a partnership with a middle school in Santa Ana which serves 95% Latinx students, where 71% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 49% of students are English language learners. David initially worked with teachers at the school and helped them develop science curriculum. Ultimately, after cultivating the relationship with teachers and administrators he was able to launch an afterschool STEM focused program along with his Super Science Squad research assistants (see SuperScienceSquad.com).
Through the program David has been able to support meaningful STEM learning and engagement for middle schoolers. In the afterschool program students engage in asking and answering questions like what are the best ways to support the engagement of youth of color, specifically girls, in STEM. Over 200 underrepresented youth have been served by David program. A highlight of the program this school year was a science night where students and parents were invited to participate in engaging with science, with over 160 parents and students attending.
Beyond the immediate benefits to the community provided by the afterschool program, David is also conducting research on how the program can promote underrepresented youth’s identity development as scientists. The project has broader implications for replication and other research on afterschool programs to meaningfully engage students in historically underrepresented communities. His ultimate goal with the project is to find new and better ways for students, especially girls to see themselves as scientists and to pursue educational opportunities and careers in STEM fields.