Summer Institute Scholars Bring Science Play to Outreach

September 16, 2013

Sometimes science is best explained with silly putty, film canisters and paper.

Concepts such as how polymers react to different stresses or how drag forces affect airplanes came alive for a group of 7- to 14-year-olds at Mountain View Family Development’s community outreach Aug. 24, thanks to activities planned and directed by 37 Harvey Mudd College students.

The children loaded seltzer tablets and soda into film canisters, crowning them with paper rockets that, when uncapped, launched 20 feet in the air. They mixed borax, glue, water and a dash of food color and glitter, to make custom silly putty. They built and flight-tested paper airplanes, discovering the connection between performance and design.

They also made ice cream—a tasty method devised by Harvey Mudd students to teach the children how the salt-ice reaction causes the ice to drop below freezing.

Participation in the Fontana, Calif. event served as the Community Service Project Day for scholars of Harvey Mudd’s Summer Institute (SI), a program that immerses incoming first-year students in workshops and activities designed to position them for academic and personal success.

“The children were excited to see college-aged students presenting math and science in a playful way,” said Angelica Ibarra, assistant dean for the office of institutional diversity, which oversees the SI program. “The community service project is built into the social justice curriculum that we implement in SI. Through various workshops the students recognize their identities and privileges, and explore ways to break the cycle of poverty and oppression.”

The Aug. 24 outreach provided food and other services to no- and low-income families in the Fontana area. The SI scholars’ participation allowed them to not only share their love of science but also to view a world outside their own.

“It’s really important, right from the start, for freshmen to understand their environment and how they can do good,” said SI head mentor Sophia Williams ’15. “It’s also important for their personal growth. Giving to people in need is really beneficial for how you see the world.”

SI scholars participate in a four-week program of academic workshops, labs and a writing course. They also develop interpersonal and leadership skills through a variety of interactive activities, field trips and diversity workshops. In preparation for this year’s Community Service Project Day, SI scholars explored the concepts of power, privilege and community engagement with Director for Community Engagement Gabriela Gamiz.